Kilkenny were big winners against Cork on Nowlan Park on Sunday as they took the NHL Division 1A points and booked their place in the league semifinals to boot with a 0-20 to 2-12 win.
Early defeats to Galway and Tipperary were forgotten as the Cats made it three league victories in a row following on from wins against Waterford and Clare.
Galway are next up for the All-Ireland champions in a repeat of last year’s decider.
Manager Brian Cody is happy with the progress his side has made of late.
“We lost our first two games, though not by much,” he said.
“We were decent in those two games, up to a point. When our backs were to the wall in the final three games and we had to come out and win against three teams that were going very, very well, the response was good and we’ve achieved that.
“Now we have three weeks to a league semifinal, which we weren’t looking too optimistic about a few weeks ago.”
Cody added, “Cork were very, very good today; they tested us to the limit. The reaction was good when we fell behind in the second half. The lads reacted well, upped the work-rate and finished very strongly.
“They did well, knuckled down to it well and upped their intensity and work rate. Overall, it was a very, very good game. Very exciting game. At least we’re still alive in the league anyway.
“Cork were very, very sharp. The more hurling we do hopefully we’ll improve on that. We had to dig it out and fight it out and that’s good that that is there.
“We linked up well, created good scoring opportunities. Probably missed a fair few chances as well but that’s fair enough too.
“Team work was good, genuineness was there and effort was good. We’re very happy to win the game.”
Defender Paul Murphy and forwards Henry Shefflin and TJ Reid should be fit to return to the Kilkenny squad in time for the semifinal.
Galway Books Repeat Semi
GALWAY boss Anthony Cunningham is looking forward to another crack at Kilkenny after his team booked an NHL semifinal showdown with the Cats thanks to a 0-15 to 0-12 win in Waterford last Sunday.
The semi is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland decider and Cunningham said, “What you want at this time of year is matches. We have loads to work on after today and we won’t be getting carried away.
“We had a lot of wides and probably a couple more chances we could have finished and there is always work to do.
“It gives us a few weeks of work and a focus, and what I told the lads there was that there is no abundance of league medals there -- but what a great thing to get a crack at Kilkenny again. It’s what we want.”
Waterford finished strongly but just came up short in their bid to make the semifinals.
Cunningham added, “It was good to finish it out, we had slipped in a couple of the matches.
Waterford have finished all their matches very strongly and it was very tight there in the finish even though there were a couple of points in it. We’re happy.”
Deise boss Michael Ryan felt a poor first half cost his team against Galway.
Ryan said, “In the first-half we never got into the game. We stood off them. They’re All-Ireland finalists last year, and if you give them time and space they’ll punish you.
“I’m happy enough with our second half performance. There were one or two incidents in there. I thought we could have had a penalty, that we had a fair shout for one. But I couldn’t fault our lads’ commitment in the second half.
“We’re disappointed not to be going to the semifinals. But it’s been a good league overall. We’ve finished fourth in the group but we’ve discovered a few things about guys, a few fellas have had their character tested. Overall I’m happy enough.”
O’Shea Surprised at Tipp Win
TIPPERARY ended the NHL Division 1A campaign on top of the table after Sunday’s 3-19 to 1-14 win over Clare – much to the surprise of manager Eamon O’Shea.
The Premier County will now face Limerick or Dublin in the semifinals, with O’Shea surprised they have got this far.
Speaking straight after the win over Clare, he said, “I believe we are top of the table which I couldn’t have believed this morning. We’re still not at the level where some of the other teams are. We’re trying to get better and better.
“I’m happy that we ground a result in the first half and the second half and kept hurling, which was the pleasing thing.”
Clare will now face Cork in a relegation playoff after Sunday’s defeat, just days after former player Brian Lohan suggested they could win the All-Ireland.
Boss Davy Fitzgerald clearly wasn’t impressed by such talk. “I was listening to such rubbish during the week about Clare winning All-Irelands. I keep saying that we’re building -- I’ve been saying this from day one but some of our own people get so carried away,” he said.