Kilkenny 2-19 Offaly 1-13: It told a tale of the first hour of this game that the loudest cheer in Nowlan Park came from the little pocket of Murray State University visitors.
They were formally welcomed to the home of Kilkenny hurling at half-time and made their presence in the 6,976 crowd immediately known.
Aside from that, it was one of those flat afternoons — only three yellow cards were issued — that looked to be petering towards an inevitable conclusion; another Kilkenny win.
Brian Cody’s men led by nine points with just over 15 minutes to go and their second win in the Leinster championship looked a done deal, just as we all expected beforehand.
Offaly, thankfully, raised a gallop in the closing stages, reeling off 1-3 without reply to leave Kilkenny, for the second Sunday running, with that awful sinking feeling.
Admittedly, this wasn’t as close a call as their great escape at Parnell Park in Round 1 but it was concerning nonetheless.
Kilkenny fired 21 wides over the course of this game, 12 in the second-half, and ultimately required Liam Blanchfield to calm nerves again.
The Bennettsbridge man fired the 71st minute goal that broke Dublin hearts and it was his goal after 64 minutes here that effectively sealed another important win.
John Donnelly, who had a strong game in attack, had just put Kilkenny four clear when the same player fed Blanchfield for that goal.
There and then, Offaly’s status as a team battling relegation was confirmed and it is likely it will all come down to their final round clash with Dublin.
As for Kilkenny, they were supposed to win their opening two games comfortably enough but made hard work of both wins.
And it was difficult not to agree with Brian Cody - even if the narrative suits him - that Galway, the All-Ireland champions, will be ‘hotly fancied’ to beat the Allianz League champions next Sunday in Salthill.
“Win that game and we’ll come home very, very happy,” said Cody. “It’s a huge game. Galway will be hotly fancied to take the two points but we’ll be going over to do everything in our power that will give us every possible chance.”
Cody admitted that his team, which was minus the talents of Walter Walsh due to an apparent leg injury, only played in patches against the Faithful.
“It was a game we seemed to be reasonably in control of and then Offaly came back into it,” said the 11-time All-Ireland winning manager. “Things became nervous for a while and we pulled away a small bit in the end. We were good in patches, very good in patches. Then at other times we were a bit careless.
We had a couple of injuries but that is the reality with these matches. Now we face the All-Ireland champions.”
A penny for the thoughts of those Murray State students afterwards. There was none of the drama of Parnell Park a week earlier and the goals didn’t fly in like they did between Offaly and Galway.
In fact, they must have wondered if they’d misunderstood the rules given that Kilkenny fired exactly as many wides as scores, 21.
What they will take away from the encounter is a piece of artistry from Offaly forward Shane Dooley that they won’t see in any other game, wherever they travel to.
His brilliant reverse hand pass over his shoulder from out on the left wing took out a number of Kilkenny defenders and allowed Joe Bergin to steal in for Offaly’s 58th minute goal.
It came amid a mini-blitzkrieg that left Offaly just three behind but, just like in the league quarter-finals in Tullamore, they couldn’t pull it off.
They will reflect on a missed opportunity because it’s not everyday Kilkenny fire that many wides and are without Walsh while TJ Reid was only in third gear.
“We are disappointed,” said Offaly manager Kevin Martin. “We thought we’d push them a little closer but the first-half wasn’t up to standard. In fairness, we made Kilkenny work for it. I have to say the effort was very, very good but the first-half just wasn’t up to the scratch.”
Kilkenny led by 1-10 to 0-7 at half-time and had the game’s outstanding player at that stage in Luke Scanlon who hit 0-4 from play.
Donnelly set up one of those points and then picked out Reid on the right for their 23rd minute goal which put daylight between the teams for the first time, 1-6 to 0-5.
Scanlon was taken off in the second-half though Donnelly continued to deliver throughout and excited the home fans with a number of fetches and quality deliveries.
Kilkenny toyed with their opponents until the hour mark as the game lost some of its cut and thrust.
There was an excellent finale though with both sides hitting unanswered bursts of 1-3; Offaly first, followed by, inevitably, Kilkenny.
Scorers for Kilkenny:
TJ Reid (1-5, 4 frees); L Blanchfield (1-2); L Scanlon (0-4); C Fennelly, M Keoghan, J Donnelly (0-2 each); E Murphy (1 free), R Leahy (0-1 each).
Scorers for Offaly:
J Bergin (1-3); S Dooley (0-5, 4 frees); S Kinsella (0-2), P Camon, C Egan, O Kelly (0-1 each).
E Murphy; J Holden, P Walsh, P Deegan; C Delaney, C Buckley (C), P Murphy; C Fogarty, L Ryan; M Keoghan, TJ Reid, R Leahy; J Donnelly, L Blanchfield, L Scanlon.
C Fennelly for Fogarty (41); C Browne for Ryan (52); G Aylward for Scanlon (54); C O’Shea for Leahy (70).
E Cahill; T Spain, D Shortt, B Conneely; D Egan, P Camon, D O’Toole Greene; D King (C), S Kinsella; O Kelly, C Egan, P Murphy; D Currams, J Bergin, S Dooley.
C Mahon for Murphy (30); P Delaney for Spain (h/t); R Hughes for Currams (h/t); S Ryan for Egan (58); T Geraghty for Kinsella (68).
J Owens (Wexford).
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