Fielding just eight of those who started in last year’s All-Ireland final, most of those in the defence, the hosts made heavy weather of what was a stubborn Offaly challenge.
Only three points separated the sides at the break, Kilkenny ahead 0-10 to 0-7, free-takers Richie Power (Kilkenny) and Shane Dooley (Offaly) doing most of the scoring with seven and six points respectively from placed balls.
It was a game of defensive dominance and on such days a goal will always make a difference – so it proved.
Six minutes into the second half, Kilkenny centre-forward and man-of-the-match Michael Rice split the Offaly outer defence with a powerful run, drew the inside line before parting to wing-forward Aidan Fogarty, who duly slotted home. Offaly still stayed close for the next 10 minutes but eventually the relentless Kilkenny pressure began to tell on an overworked defence and the points started to come for the Cats.
Five in a row between the 54th and 66th minutes took them well clear, and though – in contrast to the Cork loss last week – Offaly did finish strongly, it was game over, leaving Kilkenny manager Brian Cody reasonably pleased.
“It was competitive,” he said. “There was nothing in it for most of the game. Offaly were very strong, won a lot of ball; we didn’t win a huge amount of ball in the forwards. The defence was decent, the backs were strong and played well. We’re happy with that.”
The only dark note was the injury to Richie Power who was removed to hospital by ambulance following an accidental first-half clash.
“We don’t know how he is,” said manager Brian Cody, “He’s gone to the hospital, we’re awaiting the x-ray results. He was complaining of stiffness in his neck. You couldn’t take any chances.”
For Offaly manager Joe Dooley, there was a hint of frustration. With a young squad, away games on the first two weekends, first against Cork and then Kilkenny, it isn’t the ideal schedule. They lost by 11 points against Cork but only after folding in the final quarter; here, though again well beaten, there was the consolation of having hurled to the finish. The defence was magnificent, full-back David Kenny in superb form, but up front, no-one stood out. Then again, Kilkenny did have a half-back line of Tommy Walsh, Jackie Tyrell and JJ Delaney, while Brian Hogan, Canice Hickey, John Dalton and All-Star keeper PJ Ryan – in his new white helmet – were all commanding.
And yet, Offaly did have one or two goal chances, most notably just before the end when sub Odhran Kealey was just wide with a flick across an empty goal. Possibilities, yes, but Joe Dooley was nothing if not realistic.
He agreed: “You’d have to say Kilkenny won it comfortably. We knew that with those two away games against Cork and Kilkenny, we were going to be under pressure. The next four games are critical. We’re not scoring enough up front and maybe giving away a few silly frees and spilling a few balls; it’s something we need to sharpen up on before we play Dublin.
“Dublin had a great win (against Tipp) so we’ll be up against it.”
Scorers for Kilkenny: R. Power 0-8 (0-6 frees, 0-1 65s); A. Fogarty 1-1; M. Rice 0-3; R. Hogan 0-2 (frees); M. Grace, J. Mulhall, PJ Delaney, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: S. Dooley 0-9 (0-7 frees, 0-1 65); G. Healion, R. Hanniffy, D. Hayden, 0-1 each.
Subs for Kilkenny: J. Mulhall (Power inj. 30+3); P. Hogan (McGrath 47); P. Hartley (R. Hogan 66).
Subs for Offaly: J. Bergin (Murphy 35); O. Kealey (Carroll 49); D. Franks (Cleary inj. 51); J. Brady (Molloy 56); D. Hayden (70+1).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary). Good job.