Whatever hope there is for a really competitive Guinness Leinster hurling final, the sad reality of yesterday’s second semi-final in Croke Park was that Offaly were totally out of their depth.
The result of the most one-sided contest in decades was a record win for Kilkenny of 31 points, one point less than their cumulative winning margins in the last three meetings.
Kilkenny’s ‘big’ players turned on the style. Henry Shefflin finished with 2-11, which said as much about his individual skill as it reflected the influence of the players around him and further back towards defence.
Kilkenny coach Brian Cody said afterwards it ‘gave him no pleasure’ to win by such a huge margin and it certainly wasn’t easy for John McIntyre to watch helplessly from the sideline. The best that could be said about his team was that, largely through Damien Murray’s free-taking, they kept their heads above water through the first half. After half time, however, they really struggled and for a long time it seemed as if they might not add to their interval tally.
The Kilkenny goal rush began in the 3rd minute when Martin Comerford raced through from the right wing (after Richie Power put him in possession) to hit on the run from close range. And, Shefflin got his first two minutes later. He did so with the greatest of ease, being totally unmarked when he won a ball behind team captain Barry Teehan before hitting past Brian Mullins.
Predictably, Teehan was moved off Shefflin (in the 20th minute) in a swop with David Franks and later Kevin Brady was switched back from the centre to try his luck. But, while Shefflin was ultra-sharp in his finishing, Kilkenny were making headway in all key areas of the field.
Offaly had little success in limiting Kilkenny’s forward movements, with Tommy Walsh in particular doing a lot of valuable work on the left flank and Brendan Murphy was the only one of their midfielders to make an impression in parts. Here Derek Lyng was very consistent for Kilkenny while newcomer Brian Barry was seen to best effect in the second half.
Up front, the story was even more depressing for Offaly. Their half-forward line was virtually non-existent, all the more so since the Kilkenny half-backs were on top of their game and team captain Peter Barry was typically commanding.
Further forward, Damien Murray (more so) and Brian Carroll did pose occasional problems for the two Kilkenny corner-backs, whereas Noel Hickey had a comparatively simple job in coping with Joe Brady.
D.J. Carey, who was not involved in the play for the opening 20 minutes, was a threat once he saw more of the ball and his late goal saw the favourites go in at half-time 4-12 to 0-11 in front.
Offaly made a bit of a surge in the opening ten minutes after the resumption, but their shooting left them down and it seemed to discourage them even more. A total of 23 minutes elapsed before they got their next score - and that came from substitute Cathal Parlon (on the field barely two minutes). By that stage Kilkenny were 26 points in front and had yet to seriously relax their effort. Eoin Larkin was more involved and his James Stephens clubmate Eoin McCormack manufactured a goal and a point in the short time he was on the field.
Michael Haverty’s refereeing had to be good, because it was such an easy match to handle, and it was!
: Kilkenny - H. Shefflin 2-11 (0-6 frees); M. Comerford 1-3; D.J. Carey 1-2; T. Walsh 0-5; R. Power and E. McCormack 1-1 each; D. Lyng 0-2; B. Barry (’65), R. Mullaly and C. Phelan 0-1 each. Offaly: D. Murray 0-8 (0-7 frees); B. Carroll (0-1 free) and G. Hanniffy 0-2 each; R. Hanniffy and D. Hayden 0-1 each.
: J. McGarry; J. Tyrrell, N. Hickey, J. Ryall; R., Mullally, P. Barry (capt.), J.J. Delaney; B. Barry, D. Lyng; M. Comerford, E. Larkin, T. Walsh; R. Power, D.J. Carey, H. Shefflin. Subs: C. Phelan for Lyng (50th minute); J. Hoyne for Carey (53rd); M. Kavanagh for Mullally and E. McCormack for Power (55th); J. Tennyson for Hickey (63rd).
: B. Mullins; B. Teehan (capt.), G. Oakley, D. Franks; D. Hoctor, K. Brady, C. Cassidy; M. Cordial, B. Murphy; G. Hanniffy, R. Hanniffy, D. Hayden; B. Carroll, J. Brady, D. Murray. Subs: P. Cleary for Teehan (19th); S. Brown for Franks (second half); A. Hanrahan for Murray (47th); P. Molloy for Cordial (54th); C. Parlon for Hayden (56th).
: M. Haverty (Galway).
: 23,346 (last year, Kilkenny v Wexford 27,034).