Ravenous Cats show little mercy as they put Offaly to the sword

Ravenous Cats show little mercy as they put Offaly to the sword

Every GAA pundit whose memory goes back beyond 2000 longs for the days when Kilkenny and Offaly would deliver nail-biting classics.

This latest instalment, Sunday’s National League quarter-final, was not to be one of them.

It was a new look Kilkenny. Cody had made 10 changes (surely the most he’s ever made?). T.J. Reid was dropped to the bench, Richie Hogan was in his tracksuit in Ardan Na Gras. It was time to test the bench.

Michael Fennelly made his first start since the 2015 All Ireland final and, in the 25 minutes that he was on the pitch, did enough to ensure Kilkenny supporters of an exciting Summer ahead.

Even when things became negative, a positive followed soon after. Bennettsbridge’s Robert Lennon had his afternoon cut short when he pulled up with a hamstring injury. Joey Holden, eager to put a couple of mixed games behind him, was a solid replacement.

The match may be have been a total mismatch, but there was a couple of injuries that will have Kilkenny fans sweating.

Paul Murphy cried off with a shoulder injury, while Colin Fennelly was also forced out with a hamstring worry. It’s hoped that the trio won’t be out of action for too long.

By the time the quarter of an hour mark came, the hosts had already notched up 1-5 to a solitary Offaly point.

All over the field, the champions mastered their opponents. Their defensive play was solid, controlled and unforgiving.

Jackie Tyrrell, who came on for the injured Murphy, gave a good performance. The fact that no ball crossed the Kilkenny goal line suggested Tyrrell and his defensive colleagues did their job.

Offaly, led by the ever-impressive Shane Dooley, could not seem to cause trouble for the Cats. They were easily out-manoeuvred, unable to gain momentum. At a very early stage in the game, Dooley went for goals when he could have easily have went for points. Perhaps it was sign of panic.

At the other end, the Kilkenny forwards were rampant. Colin Fennelly, in a new red helmet, cut through the Offaly defence like a knife through butter.

Kudos also have to go to Liam Blanchfield. There will be tougher assignments ahead for the young prodigy. However, in his first start in a Kilkenny senior shirt, he raised a few heads.

Not only did Blanchfield finish the day with a very impressive 1-3, he was extremely tough and made it as hard as possible for the Offaly defence.

It is no secret that Brian Cody likes forwards to defend as hard as they attack, so Blanchfield should be happy with his days work.

By the time referee Alan Kelly blew the half-time whistle, some Offaly supporters were most likely contemplating making an early start on the road home. They wouldn’t have been blamed, as the hosts piled on the misery in the second half.

Kilkenny increased their efforts, with John Joe Farrell, John Power and Kevin Kelly leading the charge.

Kelly, who took over free-taking duties for the day, is making steady progress every time he puts on a jersey. He is a clinical finisher, as demonstrated by his goal in the opening half.

Walter Walsh pleased the home crowd by raising a white flag. The Tullogher-Rosbercon man is proving more and more with every game to be an excellent asset to the Kilkenny forward line.

Walsh’s size makes it extremely hard for defenders to dispossess him. He provides excellent support play for his team-mates and can chip in with a few points of his own.

It was good to see Kilkenny score as many goals as they did without T.J. Reid or Richie Hogan.

As important as these players are to the cause, it has always been the cornerstone of Brian Cody’s reign that a good panel is needed to be successful. By making as many changes as he did for this game, Cody is finding out more about his charges.

While Offaly must now prepare for their championship campaign, the Faithful supporters are probably wondering where the county possibly goes from here.

This is only of many big defeats they have suffered at the hands of Kilkenny (the last one being the Leinster quarter-final walloping of 5-32 to 1-18 back in 2014). It seems that the goal to get Offaly back to the big time is a multi-year project, not something that can be solved between now and September.

A special mention from the day must go to the St Kieran’s College team, who were introduced to the Nowlan Park crowd at half-time to honour their achievement of winning a third senior hurling All-Ireland final in a row.

It takes a special group of players to win a three-in-a-row, and when it is done it should be put up as an example for other teams.

These players might be the same ones that don the black and amber in years to come - Blanchfield was one such player 12 months ago - so it is important to stand up and take notice.

And who knows, it might not be the only three-in-a-row achieved this year!