Kilkenny 1-24 Galway 1-17
Kilkenny are coming to the boil nicely following their early season difficulties.
The Cats were purring again at Semple Stadium, where they handed out a seven-point beating to Galway in the National Hurling League semi-final.
Eoin Larkin helped himself to a 10-point haul, while JJ Delaney posted an immense defensive performance and midfielder Lester Ryan put his hand up for selection with an impressive display.
The absent Brian Cody faces some selection headaches when he returns to the job, and with a mouth-watering league final against Tipperary coming up, the All-Ireland champions are looking like they will be the team to beat once again this summer.
Their winning margin could have been greater but for the heroics of Galway goalkeeper, who pulled off three superb saves.
Galway made the perfect start with a goal after just three minutes. Cyril Donnellan fired in a shot from the left which was saved by Eoin Murphy, but Donnellan followed up to squeeze a second effort in off the far post.
A couple of Joe Canning frees had the Tribesmen in fine fettle, before the Cats got their challenge going, Aidan Fogarty, Richie Hogan and Eoin Larkin firing over points.
The game was held up for eight minutes as Galway captain Feargal Moore received treatment before being stretchered off following a heavy collision with Walter Walsh.
And it was the Cats who picked up the pace, with a familiar fluidity and ominous intensity returning to their game.
Larkin punished many indiscretions with his accuracy from frees, and also claimed three points from ‘65s, one of them after Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan had pulled off a stunning save from Richie Power.
Kilkenny ‘keeper Murphy also produced a smart stop from Donnellan’s deflected effort, but as the game wore on, the Tribesmen found it increasingly difficult to break down a defence in which JJ Delaney and Brian Hogan were outstanding.
Midfielder Lester Ryan powered over three points as the All-Ireland champions pulled further clear, restricting their opponents to a single point, a Joe Canning free, in the closing 15 minutes of the first half.
Kilkenny led by 0-15 to 1-6 at the interval, and while wind-assisted Galway started the second half in promising fashion with scores from Donnellan and Damien Hayes, their opponents carried a constant threat, and Callanan had to pull off another magnificent save from Power.
Richie Hogan slotted over a couple of stylish scores on his way to a five points tally, and Kilkenny were well on their way to the decider when Colin Fennelly grabbed a goal, swivelling to finish low to the net from Ryan’s long delivery.
Larkin and Power opened out the lead to 11 points, and with Delaney in imperious form at full back, Galway were fighting an increasingly difficult battle.
Canning, Donnellan and Aidan Harte did add further scores, but the Cats always had a response, and Cillian Buckley and Michael Rice posted scores, with Callanan coming to the Connacht side’s rescue once again, saving from Matthew Ruth.
Galway did have another rally late on, but scores from David Burke and Andy Smith were never going to make a difference.
Kilkenny scorers: C Fennelly 1-0, E Larkin 0-10 (6f, 3 ’65), R Hogan 0-5, L Ryan 0-3, A Fogarty, M Rice 0-2 each, R Power, C Buckley 0-1 each.
Galway scorers: C Donnellan 1-3, J Canning 0-8 (6f, 2 ’65), A Harte 0-2, J Cooney, D Burke (f), D Hayes, A Smith 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: E Murphy, P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell, T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce, L Ryan, M Rice, W Walsh, R Power, E Larkin, C Fennelly, R Hogan, A Fogarty.
Subs: M Ruth for W Walsh, C Buckley for Fennelly
Galway: C Callanan, F Moore, K Hynes, N Donoghue, J Coen, D Collins, A Harte, I Tannian, J Cooney, C Donnellan, C Cooney, D Burke, D Glennon, J Canning, D Hayes.
Subs: A Smith for Moore, P Killeen for Donoghue, J Glynn for C Cooney, J Regan for Hayes
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork)