Cats make Laois nightmare come true

The sun shone and the rain fell in intermittent waves but there was no sign of lightning striking twice in Portlaoise last night as Kilkenny made short work of an outclassed Laois side in this Bord Gáis Leinster U21 final.

Forewarned and forearmed by events last Sunday, this Kilkenny team made the short trip determined not to fall prey to the sort of ambush with which Galway had peppered their seniors in Croke Park.

Unbackable favourites entering this Leinster U21 decider, Kilkenny went on to prove that odds of around 33/1 on were in no way out of order against a county participating in its first provincial final at the grade since 1990.

Laois had surprised everyone by beating Dublin, last year’s champions, in the quarter-final but their performance here was more reminiscent of the flawed display that allowed them scrape past Carlow in the last four. Then again, Kilkenny were their old, ruthless selves, with corner-forward Ger Aylward bagging 2-5 in a man-of-the-match display and the other five starting forwards combining throughout to inflict devastating damage on an overrun defence.

"We got a great start," said Kilkenny selector Adrian Finan. "We were very conscious coming up here that we didn’t want the Laois crowd to get behind their lads and, look, last Sunday focused everybody’s minds.’’

Laois manager Tony Doran had spoken earlier in the week about the need to ape Galway’s lightning start but what transpired was not so much the dream scenario as the stuff of nightmares for the underdogs.

How bad was it? Choose your stat.

Kilkenny were 1-3 to no score ahead after three minutes. Come the second quarter it was 2-8 to two points. By half time, the favourites had claimed 3-14 against six points conceded.

The numbers were only part of the story. Laois actually played with a two-man full-forward line but the withdrawal of captain Darren King into the middle was a tactic that backfired as it failed to do anything to stem the flow of scores.

If anything, it did Laois more harm than good with Kilkenny corner-back Brian Kennedy able to station himself as sweeper between the full- and half-back lines but the St Lachtain’s man was called upon only now and then.

It took Laois seven attempts at the start of the game just to secure a single puck-out and launch an attack and by then their opponents were 1-4 to the good even as the last latecomers slid into their seats.

Laois played like the proverbial team with lead in their boots and the damage done to them by Kilkenny’s lethal attack was beautiful and terrible to watch all in one. By the 15th minute, all six starting forwards had scored.

Time and again black and amber shirts skipped away from their markers as though they were training cones. Even more alarming was the amount of times a Kilkenny shirt would appear within passing distance of a colleague, completely unmarked, before tapping over another point.

What little consolation there was could be found in a second half in which Kilkenny outscored their hosts by just a single point and in the performances of men in blue such as Stephen Maher, captain Darren King and substitute James Ryan.

By then, of course, Kilkenny were already easing off the throttle.

Their next assignment? Why an All-Ireland semi-final tussle with a Galway outfit that boasts a dozen of the senior panel which so outdid Brian Cody’s boys last weekend.

Now it gets interesting.

Scorers for Laois: S Maher 0-7 (5f), D King 0-4, N Foyle 1-1, W Dunphy 0-1.

Scorers for Kilkenny: G Aylward 2-5, J Power 2-1, K Kelly (5f); P Walsh 0-6 each; C Buckley, W Walsh 0-2 each; G Brennan, M Gaffney 0-1 each.

LAOIS: E Fleming; P Flynn, G Burke, A Phelan; J Fitzpatrick, B Duggan, N Unwin; D Freeman, B Dunne; W Dunphy, P Lawlor, S Maher; B Reddin, N Foyle, D King.

Subs: J Ryan for Lawlor (27); C Dwyer for Unwin (30); C McEvoy for Phelan (30); R King for Reddin (44); J Finane for Fitzpatrick (50).

KILKENNY: D Walsh; J Corcoran, W Phelan, B Kennedy; L Harney, R Doyle, J Lyng; G Brennan, O Walsh; K Kelly, P Walsh, C Buckley; W Walsh, J Power, G Aylward.

Subs: M Gaffney for O Walsh (43); O McGrath for Harney (44); C Kenny for Buckley (49); M Brennan for Walsh 58); I Duggan for Corcoran (60).

Referee: G McGrath (Dublin).