Kilkenny 4-24 (36pts)
Laois 1-13 (16pts)
FEARS that Kilkenny hurling was on a downward spiral were put to bed as the under-21s roared their way to the Leinster title, writes Trevor Spillane.
Memories of the senior side’s loss to Galway were banished in O’Moore Park last night (Wednesday) as Richie Mulrooney’s razor-sharp side carved Laois apart and got their hands on the provincial silverware for the first time since 2009.
The Cats were in no mood to allow Laois use home advantage, hitting them with a blistering salvo inside four minutes. All three members of the half-forward line - Kevin Kelly (free), Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley - helped themselves to a point apiece before Ger Aylward collected Walter Walsh’s hand-pass and blasted the sliotar past Eoin Fleming.
The hosts were stunned, their supporters quietened - but Kilkenny were only just getting into their rhythm. Two more points from Aylward, each coming after a booming clearance from the Kilkenny defence, were followed by John Power’s first time 10th minute strike which flashed to the net.
Laois had scored just two points by that stage. Chasing a nine-point gap, their evening was already looking gloomy.
With Kilkenny in such dogged mood, it was no surprise to see them dominate the remainder of the half. Padraig Walsh (0-2), Walter Walsh, Geoff Brennan, Kevin Kelly (0-2) and Cillian Buckley all helped themselves to points before John Power tore in from the left flank and drilled a blistering 22nd minute shot to the net (3-12 to 0-3).
Kilkenny eased off a little after that, but never let Laois force their way back in. With Kelly (free) and Aylward adding points they cancelled out two placed scores from Stephen Maher, going in 17 points to the good at the interval (3-14 to 0-6).
The hosts rang the changes at the break, introducing subs Charles Dwyer and Ciaran McEvoy to the fray while also rotating their defence. The plan worked - for a while - as they outscored the Cats in the opening stages through Stephen Maher (two frees) and one from captain Darren King. They got a real boost when Neil Foyle drilled a close range free past six Kilkennymen stationed on Dylan Walsh’s goal line in the 39th minute (3-16 to 1-9).
That was the best spell Laois enjoyed in the game, one that spurred on their supporters, but the Cats upped their game and sped off again. A quick flurry of points from Ger Aylward, sub Martin Gaffney, John Power and Walter Walsh took the sting out of the Laois revival. Aylward then made sure to kill it off, beating goalkeeper Eoin Fleming to Cathal Kenny’s floated pass and finishing to an empty net with six minutes to play (4-20 to 1-12).
Laois, who also had Packie Flynn dismissed in the closing stages, were done for - but Kilkenny weren’t finished. One more surge, which yielded points from Kelly (free), Padraig Walsh (0-2) and Aylward, drove them to the title with an impressive 20 points to spare.
Kilkenny - Dylan Walsh, Jason Corcoran, Willie Phelan, Brian Kennedy, Luke Harney, Richie Doyle, Joe Lyng, Geoff Brennan (0-1), Ollie Walsh, Kevin Kelly (0-6, 0-5 frees), Padraig Walsh (0-6), Cillian Buckley (0-2), Walter Walsh (0-2), John Power (2-1), Ger Aylward (2-5). Subs: Owen McGrath for Harney, 43 mins; Martin Gaffney (0-1) for O. Walsh, 43 mins; Cathal Kenny for Buckley, 48 mins; Michael Brennan for Walter Walsh, 58 mins; Ian Duggan for Corcoran, 59 mins.
Laois - Eoin Fleming, Packie Flynn, Gearoid Burke, Adrian Phelan, Jim Fitzpatrick, Bill Duggan, Nathan Unwin, David Freeman, Barry Dunne, Willie Dunphy (0-1), Pauric Lawlor, Stephen Maher (0-7, 0-5 frees), Brendan Reddin, Neil Foyle (1-1, 1-0 free), Darren King (0-4). Subs: James Ryan for Lawlor, 27 mins; Charles Dwyer for Unwin, 31 mins; Ciaran McEvoy for Phelan, 31 mins; Ross King for Reddin, 43 mins; Johnny Finane for Fitzpatrick, 51 mins.
Referee - Gearoid McGrath (Dublin).