And yet, those of us who were in Portlaoise yesterday saw a chink of light for the under-pressure province.
Despite getting off to a poor start, 0-5 to 0-1 behind after 15 minutes (four points from the magical blade of the returning Henry Shefflin).
Offaly really impressed in the first half.
At half-time they trailed by four points, five bad Offaly wides costing them dearly.
The first of three minutes of time added on was when all that Offaly effort was undone, also deciding the outcome.
From the beginning there were a number of flaws in Offaly’s game; too often for this level of play their first touch was poor, too often their shooting was poor, too often they gave away stupid frees to the impeccable Shefflin, and finally, fatally, too often they hit aimless balls into their full-forward line.
One of the resultant clearances took all the fight out of Offaly when it was sent high and long into the hand of Kilkenny keeper PJ Ryan who had a look upfield, picked out Shefflin floating out around the left wing, on the Offaly 45, launched a long one. Shefflin picked it on the hop and set off, those inside were drawn out, and with his old sidekick Martin Comerford riding shotgun to his right, all in the 8,151 attendance knew what was coming next. He timed the pass just right and Comerford picked his spot causing Offaly to leave the pitch a very deflated side. From 0-8 to 0-4, putting it up to Kilkenny, they went into the dressing-room 1-9 to 0-6 behind, and the signs were ominous.
What Offaly needed now was to hit the ground running after the break but Kilkenny, better than any team facing nervous opposition, know how to slam that door. A procession of points, a litany of scorers: Henry Shefflin 4), Eoin Larkin (3), Eddie Brennan (2), Michael Rice, (2), Michael Fennelly, Richie Hogan, Richie O’Neill, all aiming accurately between the uprights. By the time Aidan Fogarty had scored Kilkenny’s second goal — again set up by Henry, Willie O’Dwyer with a powerful run having first dibbs at the shot — it was already well and truly over.
Sad for Offaly, sad especially for the likes of Brian Mullins between the posts, who made a couple of good body-blocks, for David Franks (magnificent at corner-back), David Kenny, Ger Oakley, Diarmuid Horan, Rory Hanniffy and sub Joe Bergin, who all had decent outings and didn’t deserve to be on the end of such a bad hiding.
Offaly should have done a bit better yesterday, and with a little more intelligence applied to their hurling, the kind of intelligence shown time and again by Dooley and his team-mates during the 80’s and 90’s, Offaly would have kept the fight going a little longer.
Meanwhile, what of Kilkenny? They were well tested yesterday for 35 minutes, hit hard, hit often, but they took it in their stride. Their defence was immense, Michael Kavanagh, JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrell well on top inside, Brian Hogan a power at centre-back, Tommy Walsh electric on one wing, John Dalton safe and solid on the other. Cha cleaned up around the middle, an uncanny understanding with Walsh behind him, Michael Fennelly a workhorse, and up front, bristling with threat, Henry. Make no mistake about it, he’s back, and hasn’t lost a step.
Scorers for Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 0-11 (0-9f, 0-1 65); M. Comerford 1-1; E. Larkin 0-4; A. Fogarty 1-0; M. Rice 0-2; E. Brennan 0-2; J. Fitzpatrick, M. Fennelly, R. Hogan, R. O’Neill, 0-1 each.
Offaly: B. Carroll 0-6 (0-3f, 0-1 65); J. Bergin 0-2; G. Healion, D. Molloy, R. Hanniffy, J. Brady, 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; M. Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, J. Tyrell; T. Walsh, B. Hogan, J. Dalton; J. Fitzpatrick (capt), M. Fennelly; M. Comerford, M. Rice, E. Brennan; R. Hogan, E. Larkin, H. Shefflin.
Subs: A. Fogarty for Comerford (59); W. O’Dwyer for Rice (59); PJ Delaney for Hogan (59); R. O’Neill for Hogan (63); R. Mullally for Fennelly (65). Blood subs: W. O’Dwyer for Comerford (10/12).
OFFALY: B. Mullins (capt); D. Franks, D. Kenny, M. Verney; R. Hanniffy, G. Oakley, D. Horan; J. Rigney, C. Mahon; B. Murphy, P. Cleary, D. Molloy; B. Carroll, G. Healion, D. Hayden.
Subs: K. Brady for Rigney (15); J. Bergin for Cleary (26); S. Dooley for Murphy (45); J. Brady for Hayden (50); S. Ryan for Mahon (64).
Referee: J. Sexton (Cork).