Limerick boss John Kiely: ‘Our performance today was embarrassing at times’

Kilkenny book final spot as they inflict first defeat of the season on Limerick

National Hurling League semi-final: Kilkenny 3-17 Limerick 1-15

John Kiely arrived in the press conference straight from a 15 minute debrief with his players. They held their hands up, he said, in a preliminary act of contrition. Penance will follow.

The Limerick manager was asked if it was the worst performance of his eight years in charge and his first guess was that it was worse than anything since 2017, his first season. That year, they lost the only two championship matches they played, and the only two league matches that mattered in their failed bid for promotion.

Back then, though, they didn’t know what they were. This performance was contrary to everything that has defined their Masters of the Universe phase. Their striking was sour, their build-up play was clunky, their intensity was soft, their shooting was haywire: 16 scores, 14 wides. It might have been them or it might have been a hologram. What cannot be trusted in the league are your eyes.

The alarming thing was how far Limerick strayed from their core principles. There was one score in the middle of the second half that summed up their ennui. TJ Reid stood up to a free about 60 metres out and every Limerick player switched off.


Adrian Mullen was standing all alone about 15 metres away, with space in front of him and an easier shooting opportunity; Reid passed him the ball with a ground stroke and Mullen split the posts. If it happened in training or in a challenge match there would be murder.

“We were poor on the ball,” said Kiely, “we were poor in defence, we were poor at the things we usually pride ourselves in - in terms of our intensity and our work rate, use of the ball, efficiency - all of the things we would pride ourselves on, we were poor.

“I can assure you we’re not happy to be out of the league. It’s not part of any grand plan. We were looking to come here to win our game today. This is not us exiting the league on our terms. This is us being kicked out of the league on Kilkenny’s terms. That’s the facts of the matter. Our performance today was embarrassing at times.”

It is hard to say how good Kilkenny were. Against Limerick nobody expects anything to come easily but that wasn’t the case here. Until the Tipperary game, on Limerick’s last visit to Cork earlier in the month, it had been nearly three years since they had conceded three goals in a game; on Saturday, Kilkenny managed it in half an hour.

Two of them came in the space of less than 90 seconds, in the middle of the first quarter. Cody scored first, after a terrific catch and delivery by Jordan Molloy in the middle of the field, and Luke Hogan pounced for the second, after Cody’s shot was parried by Nickie Quaid.

The third goal was against Limerick’s religion. Cian Lynch dwelt too long in possession at centre field until he was eventually turned over. John Donnelly seized on the loose ball and spotted TJ Reid isolated with Araon Costello in front of the Limerick square. As so often in his career Reid bullied his marker under the dropping ball and scored with an emphatic finish.

“The quality of the ball going in is determined by the effort outside,” said Kiely. “The effort outside was abysmal. And when you have good quality forwards, what else are they going to do? They are going to nail you. And we got nailed, good and proper. Kilkenny were full value for the goals they got today. They could have got two or three more.”

Limerick led by 1-2 to 0-0 after just four minutes, but, remarkably, they had already peaked. Kilkenny were in front by 3-6 to 1-6 at the break, and by five points when Cody was dismissed on a second yellow card, two minutes into the second half. If Limerick were in any way tuned in they would have kicked on from there.

Limerick briefly reduced the deficit to four points, but Kilkenny surged again, and they were six points clear when Peter Casey was sent off on a straight red card after 56 minutes. After that the game just drifted.

“If you want to test yourself and improve as a group and as a team, you need to be pitching yourself against the best,” said Derek Lyng afterwards.

For once, Limerick didn’t provide that service.

KILKENNY: E Murphy; S Murphy, H Lawlor, T Walsh; D Blanchfield, P Deegan, C Buckley (0-1); C Kenny, J Molloy; A Mullen (0-3), J Donnelly, B Ryan (0-1); L Hogan (1-0), TJ Reid (1-8, 0-7 frees, 0-1 65), E Cody 1-0

Subs: R Reid for Buckley (h-t); M Keoghan (0-1) for Hogan 45 mins; O Wall for Ryan (52); B Drennan (0-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 65) for Reid (59); T Clifford for Donnelly (68); K Blanchfield for Kenny (70).

LIMERICK: N Quaid; B Nash, S Finn, A Costello; D Byrnes (0-1, free), D Hannon, C O’Neill (0-2); W O’Donoghue, C Lynch; G Hegarty (0-1), A English, T Morrissey (0-2, frees); P Casey (0-1), A Gillane (1-5, 0-3 frees), D Ó Dalaigh (0-1).

Subs: D Reidy (0-2, 0-1 free) for English (h-t); C Boylan for Lynch (55 mins); S Flanagan for Gillane (59); M Quinlan for Hannon (61); A O’Connor for Hegarty (68).

Referee: James Owens (Wexford)

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times