Shefflin goals shatter Limerick's title dream - By JEROME O'CONNELL

Kilkenny 3-11, Limerick 0-14 GOALS win games and therefore Kilkenny are the Allianz National Hurling League champions for the fourth time in five seasons.

Limerick's unbeaten run of 15 games came to an end in Semple Stadium, Thurles after this rip-roaring league final in front of an attendance of 16,500.

Played in a constant drizzle, Limerick went toe-to-toe with 'The Cats' for the 70 minutes, but had no answer to the three goals from the Leinstermen.

In one of the most entertaining hurling league finals in recent years, both teams served up a high tempo, high ferocity, and championship-like game of hurling.

Not for the faint hearted, action swung from end to end, but at the final whistle Limerick were left to count the cost of their 14 wides and their damage inflicted by Kilkenny's attacking double-act, Henry Shefflin and Eoin Larkin.

At the opposite end of the field Limerick had no answer to Kilkenny defensive maters John Tennyson and Tommy Walsh.

Quite simply, if Limerick could have nullified the influence of any two of this quartet, Joe McKenna's side could have won NHL title number 12.

The opening 35 minutes hurling were as good as seen from a Limerick team for some while.

Alas, they trailed 2-4 to 0-7 at half time.

Larkin and Shefflin getting 11th and 35th minute goals.

Indeed, Kilkenny nearly opened their goal account after just 12 seconds, but for a timely hook by Damien Reale on Aidan Fogarty.

Kilkenny did open the scoring in the second minute, with a Shefflin free and two minutes later he pointed from play.

Appearing in a first major final since 1997, Limerick settled well after this.

Playing with the aid of a ever so slight breeze, Barry Foley was the dominant figure early on.

Starting his first competitive game for Limerick since the early Summer of 2003, the Patrickswell man landed three points inside the first 10 minutes.

He opened his account with two frees (one from 90metres) and then worked hard to finish a good individual score from play to give Limerick a 0-3 to 0-2 lead after nine minutes play.

Limerick were on top, but were soon rocked.

Donal O'Grady missed a catch in midfield and the ball was quickly fed into Shefflin who had dragged TJ Ryan into the left corner forward position.

Shefflin then drilled the ball across the goalmouth, where the in-rushing Eoin Larkin held off his marker Ollie Moran and controlled superbly before firing across Brian Murray to the top corner.

Limerick had a chance almost immediately to hit back.

Stephen Lucey delivered from the left sideline, but Andrew O'Shaughnessy could not get a powerful connection to his flicked effort and James McGarry in the Kilkenny goals, batted to safety.

Barry Foley picked up the rebound only for McGarry to save again from Foley's angled shot.

Undeterred Limerick continued to force the issue.

In a three minute spell, Brian Begley, Lucey and Conor Fitzgerald all pointed.

A Shefflin free in response left it 0-6 to 1-3 with 20 minutes played.

Fitzgerald's point was indicative of Limerick's play.

Corner forward O'Shaughnessy battled to win back possession on the '65, he transferred to Donal O'Grady who in turn passed across field, where Fiztgerald finished off the hurley.

If Limerick could hassle and harry, so could Kilkenny and in the 21st minute, Damien Reale was dispossessed by Aidan Fogarty, who returned his side to the front.

Limerick's all action style was certainly working, with Kilkenny forced into seven first half wides Limerick hit six of their own.

Three minutes from the half time whistle, Conor Fitzgerald pointed for Limerick and 0-7 to 1-4 would have been a fair reflection of the first half.

However, the deadly acting duo had one final act.

Thirty seconds into injury time, Larkin broke onto a loose ball 50 metres from goal and left Brian Geary in his wake as he soloed goalwards.

TJ Ryan had no option but to approach the incoming attacker and when Larkin passed inside to Shefflin there was only one outcome.

Brian Murray approached from his goal-line and although Shefflin's control was not immaculate, but improvised and batted the ball to the net.

Before heading to the dressing rooms for the interval, O'Shaughnessy got a slight sight of goal, but his shot was cleared once more by McGarry,

Referee Diarmuid Kirwan made no Limerick friends with his performance, with some crucial decisions going the way of Kilkenny.

Before the second half could start, the referee had to send his lineman to fetch Kilkenny from their dressing room.

When action did get underway, Shefflin continued on his way to a personal tally of 2-6 with a point inside one minute.

A Shefflin free two minutes later was to be Kilkenny's only other score of the first 15 minutes of the second period.

Limerick dominated but could not reduce the gap below three points.

Lucey scored a delightful point off his left from the right sideline and Fitzgerald brought his tally to three, but more crucial was the five Limerick wides inside the opening 13 minutes of the half.

Fogarty increased the lead to four, before Foley frees in the games' 52nd and 54th minutes left just two between the sides, 2-7 to 0-11.

With the Limerick crowd now vocal in anticipation, Kilkenny struck their third and fatal goal.

The trademark low finish came after yet another Larkin solo through the heart of the defence, but crucially Martin Comerford appeared to foul the ball earlier in the movement.

Points from Cha Fitzpatrick left seven points between the sides, 3-9 to 0-11.

Normal service for Kilkenny would be to finish with a flurry of points as space finally became available.

However, Limerick heads didn't drop and in the final 12 minutes, Kilkenny were held to two points as Limerick hit three.

The goal Limerick needed never materialised.

Points from Foley (free) and sub Niall Moran cut the lead to five but, Fennelly and that man Shefflin hit back.

Conor Fitzgerald brought his tally to four, but the only glimpse of goal was O'Shaughnessy's shot, which ricocheted off Michael Kavanagh for the game's only '65.


Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 2-6 (0-3frees), E. Larkin 1-0, A. Fogarty, J. Fitzpatrick 0-2 each, M. Fennelly 0-1.

Limerick: B. Foley 0-6 (5frees), C. Fitzgerald 0-4, S. Lucey 0-2, B. Begley and N. Moran 0-1 each.

Kilkenny: James McGarry, Michael Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, Noel Hickey, Jackie Tyrell (capt), John Tennyson, Tommy Walsh, Derek Lyng, Richie Mullaly, Richie Power, Martin Comerford, Eoin Larkin, James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, Aidan Fogarty. Subs: Willie O'Dwyer for R. Power (38mins).

Limerick: Brian Murray, Damien Reale, TJ Ryan, Mark Foley, Ollie Moran, Brian Geary, Denis Moloney, Donie Ryan, Donal O'Grady, Mike O'Brien, Stephen Lucey, Conor Fitzgerald, Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Brian Begley, Barry Foley. Subs: Niall Moran for M. O'Brien (50mins), Seamus Hickey for M. Foley, inj (61mins), Paul O'Grady for D. O'Grady (61mins).

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).


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