Redemption for Kilkenny after surviving Limerick's fury
On a day when rain fell in biblical proportions at Croke Park, it was fitting that Kilkenny walked away with glorious redemption and a place in the All-Ireland hurling final.
A year ago, Kilkenny's players were hunkering down for a long winter of soul searching after their shortest Championship campaign under spiritual leader Brian Cody.
What was interesting at the time was the speed with which elder players nailed their colours to the mast and declared they would definitely be back in 2014.
Clearly, they realised that Kilkenny's golden era was still intact and yesterday they offered definitive proof. Twice the game threatened to escape them as opponents Limerick homed in on a first final place since, ironically enough, being defeated by Kilkenny in 2007.
But on each occasion Kilkenny summoned the necessary determination to grab a priceless goal and seize back the momentum.
Richie Hogan shot their first goal in first-half injury-time, changing the complexion of a game they'd trailed in for most of the half.
Instead of going in behind, they led by two, 1-9 to 0-10. They would fall off the pace again, particularly during the most violent of the rainfall in the third quarter of the game.
Limerick unearthed such fury in that spell, scoring five points in a row, that the Cats resembled the christians of old being fed to the lions.
But, just like before, Kilkenny would haul themselves off the floor with a goal, this time from Eoin Larkin, though Richie Power's hurl was right there beside his for the flicked finish.
Again, it catapulted Kilkenny from the back seat into the driving position with a one-point lead and, once in command, they sped on confidently to the finish line and a place in the September 7 final against Cork or Tipperary.
Kilkenny were magnificent but Limerick were only slightly behind them. Declan Hannon top scored with five points while Donal O'Grady, despite a cynical late foul on Richie Power, and Seamus Hickey were superb.
"You have to give Kilkenny credit, they're an incredible team," said Limerick manager TJ Ryan. "You can say they got two goals and we didn't, the same as the Munster final against Cork. Goals win matches. But I certainly couldn't ask for any more."
Kilkenny: D Herity: J Tyrrell, JJ Delaney, P Murphy; J Holden, B Hogan, C Buckley; R Hogan (1-0), C Fogarty; M Fennelly (0-2), C Fennelly (0-4), P Walsh (0-2); M Kelly, TJ Reid (0-5, 5f), E Larkin. Subs: H Shefflin for Kelly 52, R Power (1-0) for P Walsh 53.
Limerick: N Quaid; T Condon, S Hickey, R McCarthy; P O'Brien, W McNamara, G O'Mahony; J Ryan, P Browne; D Breen (0-1), D Hannon (0-5), D O'Grady (0-1); S Dowling (0-7, 4f, 1 65), K Downes, G Mulcahy (0-2). Subs: S Tobin (0-1) for Downes 41, T Ryan for Breen 62, N Moran for O'Grady 67.
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).