The confident Cats often toyed with a hopelessly out-of-touch Tipperary en route to a National Hurling League final meeting with Limerick next Sunday.
This was as chastening a hurling lesson as Tipp have received in a long time. In the opening half in particular, when Kilkenny laid the foundations for their eventual decisive win, Tipp were often outplayed alarmingly.
Kilkenny controlled all of the key sectors and passed the ball around with ease, while Tipp’s shortcomings were cruelly exposed. The measure of their dominance was such that one feared what the final scoreline might be.
A solitary point from play is a measure of the ineptitude of Tipp’s display in that first half, in stark contrast to the Kilkenny attack, which had the Cats 2-13 to 1-4 ahead at the break - the Tipp goal coming on the stroke of the interval from a 20-metre Eoin Kelly free.
Kilkenny took just four minutes to breach the Tipp defence, man of the match Martin Comerford carving the opening to goal, and with Tommy Walsh mopping up the proverbial ocean of ball from his wing back berth, Kilkenny wasted no time exposing the limitations of this Tipp side.
Luck wasn’t on their side when an upright denied Eoin Kelly a goal on eight minutes, but they still had to wait a quarter of an hour before he opened their account from a free.
“The seeds of victory were undoubtedly sown in the opening period,” Kilkenny manager Brian Cody acknowledged. “Some of our first-half hurling was really good, and we were able to build up a lead sufficient to sustain us on the turnover.”
The second Kilkenny goal in the 14th minute was a classic score, brilliantly finished by the outstanding Cha Fitzpatrick. H was set up by the returning Henry Shefflin, who will have been well pleased with this performance after his lay-off.
That put the winners nine points ahead and they continued to pull clear, tacking on further super scores from Comerford, Fogarty, a pure gem from Fogarty, and Fitzpatrick as the lead extended to 2-11 to 0-2; only a late surge by Tipp, which yielded Kelly’s goal, brought them within 12 points at the break.
Whatever manager Babs Keating said at half-time, Tipperary came out with a much more positive and aggressive attitude on the restart.
“That improved second-half display is one of just a few positives that we can take from the day,” Keating said afterwards, admitting they still have a mountain to climb in advance of their championship outing against Limerick at the same venue in three weeks.
They replaced an ineffectual Micheal Webster for that second half, yet the decision to put regular defender Diarmuid Fitzgerald in the full forward berth was mystifying. The gamble failed, Fitzgerald making little impact against the rock solid JJ Delaney, and later they brought on team captain Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady. but he too caused little anxiety for the Kilkenny defence.
Sweetly struck points by Daragh Egan and Paul Kelly and another from Eoin Kelly gave Tipp fans just a flicker of hope, and when the Kellys chipped in with two more the deficit was narrowed further.
Comerford responded with two quality points, but it seemed that finally Eoin Kelly had thrown his side a genuine lifeline when Fitzgerald set him up in the 52nd minute and the clinical goal finish was typical of this great hurling artist.
The deficit down to seven points, the game seemed to have taken on a competitive edge. However, Kilkenny upped the tempo and banished any fleeting thoughts of a Tipp win. O’Grady was denied by a brilliant James McGarry save, and Tipp’s surge petered out.
Kilkenny finished the game as they began it - on a high. Substitute Eoin Reid and Fitzpatrick tacked on points, and the icing on the cake came in the form of their third goal on 65 minutes, fittingly scored by the elegant Shefflin with Reid providing the pass. The Cats then coasted to as easy a victory as they have ever had against their great rivals.
: Kilkenny: M. Comerford (1-5); H. Shefflin (1-3, 0-2 frees); J. Fitzpatrick (1-2); A. Fogarty(0-4); W. O’Dwyer (0-2); E. Larkin (0-2); D. Lyng, E. Reid (0-1) each. Tipperary: E. Kelly (2-6, 1-5 frees); P. Kelly (0-2); K. Dunne, D. Egan, J. O’Brien (0-1) each.
: J. McGarry; M. Kavanagh. J.J. Delaney. N. Hickey; J. Tyrrell. J. Tennyson. T. Walsh; D. Lyng. R. Mullally; W. O’Dwyer. M. Comerford. E. Larkin; J. Fitzpatrick. H. Shefflin. A. Fogarty. Subs: M. Fennelly for Mullaly (50 mins); R. Power for O’Dwyer (50 mins); E. Reid for Fogarty (58 mins); P. J. Delaney for Walsh (62 mins); B. Barry for Lyng (68 mins).
: B. Cummins; P. Curran. P. Maher. M. Ryan; E. Corcoran. D. Fanning. H. Moloney; P. Kelly. S. McGrath; C. Morrissey. J. Carroll. K. Dunne; E. Kelly. M. Webster. D. Egan. Subs: C. O’Mahony for Fanning (22 mins); J. O’Brien for McGrath (32 mins); D. Fitzgerald for Webster (ht); G. O’Grady for Morrissey (47 mins); J. Woodlock for P. Kelly (65 mins).
: B. Kelly (Westmeath).