Full-strength Kilkenny exact revenge on Dubs for NFL loss

DUBLIN manager Anthony Daly saw no point in trying to make excuses as his team went under by 4-17 to 1-15 to Kilkenny in last Sunday's Leinster Hurling final at Croke Park.

Daly was entitled to feel disappointed, given that Dublin had decisively defeated Kilkenny to win the National League crown. But in beating their rivals on that occasion, the Dubs may well have reawakened one of the best hurling teams of all time.

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This was a different Kilkenny, both in terms of attitude, skill and personnel. For one thing, many of their big hitters were back, people like Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh.

But, just as importantly, Kilkenny were up for the fight. There was simply no chance of them losing a second physical battle to the Leinster rivals.

"Kilkenny fully deserved their victory. They were more powerful, they haven't been beaten too often when they play like that," admitted Daly.

"Realistically, the damage was done early. They were really tuned-in and the influence of guys who weren't there in the league final was very significant.

"We were down a few bodies this time which didn't help but, no excuses, they were better than us on the day."

Indeed they were. Ever since that league final defeat, Kilkenny have been waiting for the chance to get back at the Dubs. They knew they had to make an early statement of intent.

That came in the shape of an Eoin Larkin goal. When Michael Fennelly added a second after 20 minutes to make it 2-5 to 0-3, Dublin knew they were in real trouble.

By half-time, the lead was 2-10 to 0-7 and there was seemingly no way back for the league champions. To be fair, Dublin responded; the accurate Paul Ryan scoring a much needed goal from a free, with the aid of a deflection, to reduce Kilkenny's lead to six points with 13 minutes left.

Perhaps the crowd of nearly 34,000 was going to see an exciting finish. Not a chance. Within a couple of minutes, Kilkenny had scored their fourth goal through Michael Rice after a superb Richie Power offload.

Game, set and match to Kilkenny. Now that they are through to the semi-finals, no one is going to put too much money on them going the whole way and regaining the All-Ireland crown.

Clearly, Tipperary are going to have a big say in deciding that but there's no doubt that this is a rejuvenated Kilkenny outfit. Tellingly, Henry Shefflin finished with 1-9, scoring a cracking third goal, while Tommy Walsh returned to give a masterful display of fielding.

Either one could have been Man of the Match. Then again, there were top class Kilkenny performances all over the pitch.

Unsurprisingly, manager Brian Cody was well pleased. As much as the league final defeat hurt, he argued that Sunday wasn't simply about getting revenge.

"The league final is over, Dublin were deserving winners; they proved themselves to be the best team in the league," he said.

"Since then, they've beaten Galway, and we saw how good Galway were in beating Clare. Dublin are a serious team and I still believe they have a major say in the championship. I'm certain of that." Something else Cody is certain of is that the physicality is back in Kilkenny hurling. Nothing annoys him more than to see officials trying to take this aspect out of the game.

"It's an outstanding game when it is allowed to go ahead with decent challenges in it. If you don't stand up to the physical challenge, you are blown away in hurling," he said.

Galway take Clare in their stride

GALWAY could yet have a say in this year's All-Ireland Hurling Championship following their comfortable 4-25 to 0-20 Phase Two qualifying success over Clare at Pearse Stadium.

But their real worth will only be know after they face Cork in Phase Three of the qualifiers. Limerick also seem to be on the upgrade after they beat Wexford by 1-22 to 2-13 in Phase Two of the qualifying competition.

A kind draw against Antrim in Phase Three would seem to provide them with an excellent chance of making it through to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Antrim qualified to face Limerick by beating surprise packets Armagh by 2-20 to 2-12 in the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship final.

While that scoreline doesn't appear that impressive, it should be noted that Antrim gambled by resting many of their senior players. Galway, having played so disappointingly when losing to Dublin in the Leinster semi-final, needed all of their top men if they were to regain some prestige against Clare.

Such was the criticism surrounding the team that it had been through that a poor crowd would turn up at Pearse Stadium. But a very creditable attendance of over 13,000 was on hand to see Galway win with a good deal in hand.

The game was all but over when they led by 3-13 to 0-12 at the interval. Joe Canning, Ger Farragher, Damien Hayes and Alan Kerins scored goals as Galway went on to finish 17 points clear.

Their job was made easier by the sending off of Clare's James McInerney after 40 minutes. Still, Galway manager John McIntyre was pretty pleased with the effort.

He said: "We were extremely disappointed with the performance against Dublin. So, we went back to basics on the training ground and it paid off.

"My overriding emotion is sheer delight for the players, they have retrieved their reputation. But it's only one match," McIntyre added.

Quite right, particularly as a game against Cork is next on the agenda. Limerick, meanwhile, drew an attendance of just short of 14,000 for their qualifying game against Wexford at the Gaelic Grounds.

It's hard to believe this is the same county which was in such turmoil a year ago. Manager Donal O'Grady has worked wonders with his young and rapidly improving squad.

No one was better than teenager Declan Hannon who finished with 0-9. O'Grady was delighted with the result, his one real disappointment being the manner the let in the two Wexford goals.

Their next opponents Antrim also, somewhat surprisingly, let in two goals against Armagh. But the truth is that Antrim will be back at full strength and surely an awful lot better when they take on Limerick.

Kingdom win Munster title

NO surprise really that the biggest crowd of the day, some 40,892 was in Killarney to see All-Ireland Champions Cork try to overcome Kerry in the Munster Senior Football final.

It does seem that winning an All-Ireland is one thing, and beating Kerry in a Munster final in Killarney is quite another. At the end of an exciting, topsy-turvey encounter, Kerry emerged victorious by 1-15 to 1-12.

No one in their right mind would dismiss Cork's chances of again coming through the qualifiers to retain the All-Ireland. Their manager Conor Counihan took the defeat on the chin, expressing his disappointment with his team's first half effort.

He said: "We gave possession away in the first half. And you can't do that against a quality side because they will punish you."

Yet, the match was to take a dramatic turn in the second half. Cork, who had only managed five points in the opening period, then restricted Kerry to just the same number of scores in the second half.

What's more, two of those came in injury time. Astonishingly, Kerry went 20 minutes without scoring as Cork threatened to snatch a remarkable win, or at least come away with a draw.

With Kerry ahead by 1-13 to 1-12, Cork's John Miskella took a pass from Alan O'Connor in the 67th minute to shoot against the post. But the home favorites weathered the storm and late points from Eoin Brosnan and substitute James O'Donoghue subsequently made certain of victory.

"It was a game that had a draw written all over it with five minutes to go," admitted Kerry manager Jack O'Connor. "We were lucky enough in the end as Cork had a great goal chance."

Maybe so, but Kerry probably deserved their victory because of the sheer quality of their first half performance. With Colm Cooper having a quiet day by his high standards, Declan O'Sullivan emerged as their most influential player.

He finished with 0-5 after a fine all-round display. Darran O'Sullivan also took his goal really well, while Kieran Donaghy (0-2) was another to cause Cork problems.

Their efforts enabled Kerry to lead by 1-10 to 0-5 at the interval. The game was then to change in the 55th minute when Donncha O'Connor drove a penalty home for Cork.

Six minutes later, Cork had reduced the deficit to a single point with Paul Kerrigan's third score. Suddenly, Kerry looked jaded and Miskella hit the post with his match-winning opportunity.

A somewhat relieved Jack O'Connor is now looking forward to the quarter-finals but Kerry will not be getting ahead of themselves. "Look what happened to us against Down after we won the Munster Championship last year," O'Connor recalled.

"That's the big danger and we can't let it happen again. And I won't be forgetting about Cork, they will have a big say in how things go from here on in.

"I certainly wouldn't fancy getting Cork in the qualifiers. They are a huge strong team," he said.