THE question has to be asked, what is it with Kilkenny these times? Here they were, fielding a makeshift team made up by players who had laboured through club action during the previous 48 hours, and yet they mowed down an Offaly team that was fully focussed on the championship, writes John Knox.
The score was 6-26 to 1-15.
The midlanders face Wexford in the Leinster championship in their own O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Saturday week, and they have high hopes of scoring a win. But in the greater order of things, where does a comprehensive defeat like this leave Offaly, and any other team they think they could beat?
A challenge match on a sultry Sunday evening in Clara (Offaly) to mark the opening of lovely new grounds by the local club - at a cost of 2.5 million euro, apparently - is a long way from real competition, but that’s not the point.
How is it that Kilkenny can perform so well, no matter what team they turn out? They produced a number of wins earlier in the season when fielding shadow sides in the Walsh Cup. This was more of it, and even when they dug down through a panel containing a lot of young hopefuls, they still operated with a level of skill and efficiency, never mind determination, that was staggering.
There was no Henry Shefflin - he needs a lot more game time - Brian Hogan, Noel Hickey, Michael Rice, David Herity, Jackie Tyrrell, J.J. Delaney or Richie Power, yet the Cats motored along strongly and the contest was over at half-time when they led by 3-13 to 0-6.
Three big names withdrawn
At the break Eoin Larkin, Tommy Walsh and Richie Hogan were withdrawn. In went Brian Kennedy, Joe Brennan and Walter Walsh, later to be joined by Joe Lyng, Ger Aylward and Martin Walsh. Did it make a difference to the efficiency of the team?
Not a bit. Brennan scored two goals. Walsh scored a third. He won a ball on the endline to the right, and instantly it was head down and straight for goal before lashing the ball into the net.
The journalist from the local ’paper couldn’t get over it. He could see the way Walsh lifted the ball that there was only one thing on his mind. But the Tullogher lad, a new arrival at this level, had a lot of work to do before the green flag was flown. Still he did it!
Kilkenny are riding a hurling wave right now, but it appears that all boats, meaning all players, are being lifted by the rising tide. No one appears to have any fears, any inhibitions, once they pull on a stripey shirt. The motto appears to be get in and let rip.
During the opening 10 minutes the teams shared equally in four points.
Tomas Breen, resident at top of the right, shot the visitors into the lead moments later. They roared on from there. Breen was mighty, roaming, losing his marker, linking with colleagues and finishing. He finished with 2-4 to his credit.
The next score, a point, was claimed by wing-back, John Tennyson, who was in the colours for the first time since the 2010 All-Ireland final. Did he play well? Of course, as did Aidan Fogarty, who has just returned after a wrist injury.
The Breen goals were scored in the 25th (1-10 to 0-4) and 28th (2-11 to 0-5) minutes, the first almost placed on a plate by Eoin Larkin and the second with defence splitting work by Tommy Walsh and Richie Hogan, before T.J. Reid bagged the third on the half hour mark. By the break the gulf between the teams was 3-13 to 0-6.
Short game went wrong
Poor Offaly didn’t know what to do. They tried to play a short passing game, mixed with angled deliveries out of defence. The short game went all wrong too often, and more often they fired long clearances into no man’s land. Their troubles were amplified by their opponents utter efficiency.
The wides tallies told a story. At the break they read - Kilkenny 3, Offaly 6. At the finish it was worse - Kilkenny 7, Offaly 18. Slaughter of the innocent is a term that could apply!
Six minutes into the closing half Joe Brennan slotted home a goal to add to points from Padraig Walsh, an ever improving prospect, Tomas Breen and T.J. Reid (free) following a foul on Walter Walsh. The divide was 4-16 to 0-7. Brian Cody and some of the officials took time out to pose for a picture for a lady who insisted. She went away with a broad smile on her face. The autograph signing after the action finished took ages.
Was the match of any use? Not really, apart from the Clara club making a bit of money. We wish Offaly well. Kilkenny? The desire among players to be part of the scene is tremendous.
Scorers: Kileknny - Tomas Breen (2-4); Joe Brennan (2-0); T.J. Reid (1-3, one point free); Padraig Walsh (0-5); Aidan Fogaty (0-5, one free); Walter Walsh (1-1); Ger Aylward (0-3); John Tennyson, Conor Fogarty, R. Hogan, Martin Walsh (0-1 each); Paddy Hogan (0-1, free). Offaly - Brian Carroll (0-5); Shane Dooley (0-4, one free); Joe Bergin (0-4); Sean Ryan (1-1); Conor Mahon (0-1).
Kilkenny - Eoin Murphy, Tommy Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Richie Doyle, John Tennyson, Paul Murphy, Lester Ryan, Conor Fogarty, Paddy Hogan, Eoin Larkin, T.J. Reid, Padraig Walsh, Tomas Breen, Richie Hogan, Aidan Fogarty. Subs - Brian Kennedy for T. Walsh; Joe Brennan for E. Larkin; Walter Walsh for R. Hogan; Joe Lyng for T.J. Reid; Ger Aylward for P. Walsh; Martin Walsh for R. Doyle.
Offaly - James Dempsey, James Rigney, David Kenny, David Franks, Barry Harding, Paul Cleary, Derek Markham, Kevin Brady, Conor Hernan, Cathal Parlon, Brian Carroll, Brendan Murphy, Thomas Carroll, Joe Bergin, Sean Ryan. Subs - Joe Dooley for T. Carroll; Conor Mahon.
Referee - Brian Gavin.