Kilkenny 6-20 Offaly 0-14: Ger Loughnane probably hasn’t changed his mind just yet, but Kilkenny’s players at least left the Clare legend with a little something to think about at Nowlan Park.
Loughnane essentially said in the run up to the game that Kilkenny are blessed to have two gifted attackers in TJ Reid and Richie Hogan and that without them they’d be nowhere. To be specific, he said the Cats were “totally dependent on TJ Reid, one forward, and maybe Richie Hogan, as well”.
That barb was surely ringing in the Kilkenny’s players ears as, with Reid and Hogan rested, they strode to a 24-point demolition of Offaly, securing a semi-final place alongside Loughnane’s native Clare in the process.
Offaly admittedly are a pale shadow of the side that gloried in the mid-2000s when Loughnane was in charge of Clare, but Kilkenny were impressive all the same, surging 15 points clear early on.
Brian Cody fielded an experimental team and, with championship places up for grabs, Kevin Kelly and Liam Blanchfield responded with a combined contribution of 2-10 overall. Top scorer Kelly and Colin Fennelly scored the early goals that put Kilkenny into that big lead, virtually securing the win by half-time.
However, the day would end in difficulty for Fennelly, as he pulled up with a hamstring injury in the 66th minute and removed himself from the play.
By that stage, his older brother, midfielder Michael, had also been replaced with a hamstring twinge while full-back Robert Lennon was taken off with the same concern. Paul Murphy and Cody’s own son, Diarmuid, went off with knocks as well and it remains to be seen how many of them will be available for the Banner showdown on Sunday week, a repeat of last year’s relegation play-off.
“Colin pulled up, he felt his hamstring, and the hamstring is always a dodgy one,” said Cody. “Two weeks is a short time for a hamstring to recover. Rob Lennon had a hamstring issue as well, so it’s going to be touch and go. If they’re not right, if there’s even the slightest doubt, they won’t play, simple as that.
“Mick Fennelly’s hamstring felt tight as well. Again, it’s something you don’t play through, so it’s a question now of how they’ll recover. We just have to wait and see.”
Offaly got going for 10-minute spells either side of half-time, but were comfortably beaten, overall. Cody admitted the challenge will be much stiffer against Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare.
“It’s a terrific game to get against Clare,” he said. “They’re after having a really strong run through Division 1B and had a big win over Tipperary, so it’s a huge game coming up. They’re a team full of confidence, I’d say.”
Offaly finished fourth in 1B and the gulf in quality between them and the 1A table toppers was obvious from the word go.
The Faithful have their work cut out now to rebuild shattered confidence in time for the qualifier series of games in the Leinster championship. They play Westmeath on May 1 in Mullingar.
Jonjo Farrell was another fringe player who got a start in attack for Kilkenny and was involved in their first two goals, scored by Colin Fennelly and Kelly. Those 16th and 24th minute majors had the effect of sucking the life out of Offaly’s challenge and Eamonn Kelly’s side struggled to get any sort of foothold in the game.
Offaly did up the ante approaching half-time and, though they trailed 2-11 to 0-5 at the interval, they continued to battle gamely after the re-start.
Between the 27th and and the 41st minutes, Offaly outscored Kilkenny by 0-8 to 1-1 and it is that crumb of comfort that they will cling to ahead of the championship.
Unfortunately for the Faithful, that was as good as it got for them and Power scored Kilkenny’s fourth goal shortly after, a strike which had the effect of a sledgehammer to Offaly’s already shaky house.
Former All-Ireland winning captain Ryan sneaked a long-range shot to the net for their fifth, before Blanchfield wrapped up the goal blitz late on with a kicked finish from close range.
The goal feast meant that in just one afternoon Kilkenny more than doubled their goals tally for the campaign having hit just four in the group stage, the second lowest return in Division 1A.
“Yeah, we had been getting a bit of, shall we say, thoughts, that we weren’t maybe scoring enough goals,” acknowledged Cody with a grin. “So, we got a few goals today, but that’s how it goes. It goes like that sometimes, where they come and we got them today which is what we’d like to be doing all the time, obviously.”
Scorers for Kilkenny:
K Kelly (1-7, 7 frees), C Fennelly (2-1), L Blanchfield (1-3), J Power and L Ryan (1-2 each), M Fennelly (0-2), W Walsh, C Buckley and C O’Shea (0-1 each).
Scorers for Offaly:
S Dooley (0-6, 6 frees), K Connolly (0-3), J Mulrooney (0-2), P Murphy, C Egan and J Bergin (0-1 each).
E Murphy; P Murphy, R Lennon, S Prendergast; C O’Shea, K Joyce, C Buckley; M Fennelly, L Ryan; W Walsh, C Fennelly, K Kelly; L Blanchfield, J Farrell, J Power.
J Holden for Lennon (7), D Cody for M Fennelly (25), J Tyrrell for Murphy (28), M Malone for Cody (44), C Martin for Walsh (62).
J Dempsey; N Wynne, D Shortt, C McDonald; D Mooney, C Doughan, P Camon; S Ryan, K Connolly; C Egan, S Kinsella, P Guinan; S Dooley, J Bergin, J Mulrooney.
P Murphy (0-1) for Guinan (29), C Kiely for Ryan (53), D Kelleher for Shortt (53), J Gorman for Kinsella (64), J Sampson for Doughan (68).
A Kelly (Galway).
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