By John Foley
A SOLID second-half performance from Carlow offered some degree of respectability, comparatively speaking, as they lost out to Kilkenny by 14 points at Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday afternoon.
On the face of it, calling a defeat of this magnitude respectable might sound strange. But it comes in the context of a first half which saw Kilkenny race out of the traps and take a 1-2 to no score lead after just five minutes. They then drove home that early advantage to lead by 3-9 to 0-3 at the break. At that point it was looking particularly grim for Carlow, but things did improve.
The game was over as a contest and Kilkenny noticeably slipped down through the gears, but Colm Bonnar’s men battled away and recorded 1-11 after the break, including a fine goal from James Doyle, to stay with their opponents on what was a perfect afternoon for championship fare.
This was a game in which Kilkenny typically went for the jugular early and often, never allowing Carlow to settle and, consequently never allowing Carlow supporters the opportunity to get behind their team.
Brian Cody’s men wasted no time in signalling their intentions with the very first attack arriving into the hands of Bill Sheehan and he beat the Carlow defence for pace before feeding Colin Fennelly who struck a powerful drive low past Brian Tracey in the Carlow goal. There were only 19 seconds on the clock.
The goal had the immediate effect of sucking the air of anticipation out of the ground and by the fifth minute TJ Reid had tacked on two points, one from a 65.
Marty Kavanagh pointed for Carlow a minute later after a clever flick from Edward Byrne. But before the hosts could draw breath, Kilkenny struck their second killer blow. This time TJ Reid passed to Bill Sheehan who battled down to the onrushing Ger Aylward and the Glenmore man shot low to the net. Inside a minute Alan Murphy pointed from distance and it was 2-3 to 0-1 to the visitors.
Even at this stage Kilkenny had far more space to operate around the middle and in TJ Reid they had the game’s most influential presence in the opening half with the Ballyhale man drifting into space to claim possession and driving at the heart of the Carlow defence.
They were also far more tenacious under the dropping ball and hoovered up the vast majority of the breaks as Carlow players stood off.
Kilkenny kept the scoreboard ticking over with Richie Leahy and Colin Fennelly among those to find the posts along with TJ Reid from placed balls.
But it was Kilkenny’s wayward shooting which most caught the eye. Time and time again they pulled efforts left and right to end the half with 13 wides; fodder for Cody’s half-time team-talk, no doubt.
The Carlow forwards found space at a premium against a tight defence and it took until the 20th minute for Carlow to score their second point thanks to James Doyle. It was one of only a couple of occasions in the first half when the home support raised a cheer.
Colin Fennelly had to leave the field on 26 minutes with a leg injury but his departure didn’t halt their rate of scoring and by the time TJ Reid crashed home Kilkenny’s third goal from a penalty on 28 minutes, the game was all-but over.
In beautiful conditions for hurling, Carlow turned into the second half showing some determination to prove that they could compete at this level and they got some early rewards too.
Indeed Carlow were by far the more productive side in the third quarter with Seamus Murphy’s lovely long-range score after Jack Kavanagh had intercepted a loose Kilkenny pass proving a signal of their intent.
Carlow’s forwards ran lines of a more direct variety with James Doyle and Chris Nolan asking questions for a change of a Kilkenny defence that up to then had enjoyed a trouble-free afternoon. Chris Nolan and Marty Kavanagh both pointed from frees and when Brian Tracey came forward to launch a cracking free from over 80 metres for his team’s eighth point, a huge cheer rose around the ground.
The volume increased further still in the 46th minute when Marty Kavanagh miscued a free straight into the hands of James Doyle 20 metres from goal and the St Mullins man turned to shoot a fine goal. At 3-10 to 1-8, there was the faintest glimmer of hope.
Unfortunately the revival didn’t have the required staying power and Kilkenny, almost imperceptibly, raised their game. Ger Aylward pointed, just before being called ashore. Adrian Mullen found the posts, TJ Reid scored a free and by the time the game ticked into the final 10 minutes Kilkenny had eased into a 3-15 to 1-9 lead.
The points flowed in the closing minutes with the result never in doubt. Jack Kavanagh scored after a positive run through the Kilkenny defence, Chris Nolan found the posts following a lovely ball up the line from John Michael Nolan, David English lofted a lovely score from distance late on. But moments like those were just too rare to cause Kilkenny any bother as a sharper and snappier team sealed victory at their ease.
Carlow: Brian Tracey (0-1); Kevin McDonald, Paul Doyle, Michael Doyle; Eoin Nolan, David English (0-1), Richard Coady; Jack Kavanagh (0-1), Sean Whelan; John Michael Nolan, Marty Kavanagh (0-5, 0-4 frees), Edward Byrne; James Doyle (1-1), Seamus Murphy (0-2), Chris Nolan (0-3, 0-1 free). Subs: Alan Corcoran for P Doyle (half-time), Ted Joyce for E Byrne (49 mins), Jack Murphy for S Whelan (63 mins), Diarmuid Byrne for J Kavanagh (65 mins), Ross Smithers for J Doyle (67 mins)
Kilkenny: Darren Brennan; Paul Murphy, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh; Conor Fogarty, Padraig Walsh, Paddy Deegan; Alan Murphy (0-2), Richie Leahy (0-1); Adrian Mullen (0-1), Walter Walsh (0-1), TJ Reid (1-13, 1-0 pen, 0-1 65, 0-8 frees); Bill Sheehan, Colin Fennelly (1-1), Ger Aylward (1-1). Subs: Liam Blanchfield for C Fennelly (26 mins). Enda Morrissey for H Lawlor (30-33 mins, blood), John Donnelly (0-2) for W Walsh (half-time), Billy Ryan for G Aylward (48 mins), Jason Cleere for P Deegan (52 mins), Martin Keoghan for R Leahy (61 mins).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)