IT'S BEEN ten years since Offaly beat Kilkenny in championship hurling. Going on Sunday's performance, it could be another decade before they scalp the Cats again.
Kilkenny didn't so much march into the Leinster final as canter their way there. Offaly gave a spirited fight in the first half, but looked a well-beaten side long before the final whistle.
If asked where it all went wrong, Offaly could probably look to the last minute of a topsy-turvy first half.
Trailing by four points, Offaly had a great chance to wipe out most of that deficit when Brendan Murphy picked off a breaking ball from among a cluster of Kilkenny backs in the 34th minute.
Setting off for the posts, the wing-forward went for goal from the right side of the square, but blazed his shot well wide of the target.
Rue that miss
Offaly were left to rue that miss as the Cats pounced just 60 seconds later. Snatching a long ball out of the grasp of David Franks, Henry Shefflin turned towards the Town End goal. Breaking through a series of challenges he then off-loaded the sliotar to Martin Comerford, who crashed an unstoppable shot past netminder Brian Mullins.
That was the body blow, the real sucker punch, which took all the wind out of Offaly's sails. They didn't know it then, nor did the 8,151 attendance, but that was the end of the game as a contest.
Kilkenny began the half as impressively as they had ended it, purring into scoring action early on. Led by the returning Henry Shefflin they were 0-5 to 0-1 up by the 15th minute. All five scores came from Ballyhale men – Shefflin chipping in with three frees after an opening score from play, new captain James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick adding the fifth after a neat one-two with Comerford.
Offaly's only score during that run was a single point from Brian Carroll after seven minutes. They had to wait until the 20th minute to double their tally through Derek Molloy, but picked up the pace through Rory Hanniffy and Carroll again to lie just a point behind with 12 minutes left in the half.
Kilkenny upped the tempo in the closing stages of the half, stretching away from the Offaly challenge. With Brian Hogan swatting away any attack that came his way possession was soon back up at the other end. One such score came from a good catch while under pressure by the centre-back, Eoin Larkin adding the finishing touch with a solid point.
Two more Shefflin frees followed in quick succession, as a frustrated Offaly were called for fouls well within the Ballyhale man's scoring range. The gap was growing again (0-8 to 0-4).
By the time the interval whistle blew, Offaly were in a daze. Having conceded that late goal to Comerford they also leaked another point to the ever-accurate Shefflin. Granted, they did end 14 minutes of scoreless action with two minor scores from Brian Carroll and sub Joe Bergin, but looked off the pace with 35 minutes still to play (1-9 to 0-6).
If the first half was a little uneven, the second was a total mismatch. Almost before they knew it, Offaly's half-time deficit had turned into double figures, leaving their chances of making a comeback look wafer-thin.
Quick points from Eddie Brennan and Martin Comerford were soon followed by another brace of Shefflin frees, but the real kick in the teeth came with Michael Rice's 43rd minute point, a score which the Carrickshock man made look so easy.
Joe Bergin's second point of the game did manage to break the monotony of the scoring, but it wasn't long before Kilkenny were back in charge. Another burst of points – the pick of which was a good finish from Eddie Brennan after a reverse pass from Martin Comerford – was added to by Richie Hogan's debut championship point.
With 17 minutes left on the clock, the score read 1-19 to 0-7. Offaly fans were already heading for the exits.
The closing minutes didn't get any easier for those who stayed behind to watch. Subs Aidan Fogarty and Willie O'Dwyer made a bold introduction to the game, cutting through the Offaly defence within seconds of coming onto the field.
O'Dwyer burst through on goal but saw his low shot stopped by full-back David Kenny. The rebound fell at the feet of Fogarty, who wasted little time in picking his spot in the net.
Offaly did raise their spirits in the closing minutes, shifting their tally into double figures thanks to Brian Carroll (2), Ger Healion and sub Joe Brady.
In the end, those scores mattered little. Two more for Larkin, plus one apiece for Shefflin and sub T.J. Reid completed a game which had long since ceased to be competitive.
Kilkenny – P.J. Ryan, M. Kavanagh, J.J. Delaney, J. Tyrrell, T. Walsh, B. Hogan, J. Dalton, J. Fitzpatrick, M. Fennelly, M. Comerford, M. Rice, E. Larkin, R. Hogan, H. Shefflin, E. Brennan. Subs: W. O'Dwyer for Comerford, 58 mins; A. Fogarty for Rice, 58 mins; P.J. Delaney for B. Hogan, 60 mins; T.J. Reid for R. Hogan, 63 mins; R. Mullally for Fennelly, 65 mins.
Offaly – B. Mullins, D. Franks, D. Kenny, M. Verney, D. Horan, G. Oakley, R. Hanniffy, J. Rigney, C. Mahon, B. Murphy, P. Cleary, D. Molloy, B. Carroll, G. Healion, D. Hayden. K. Brady for Rigney, 15 mins; J. Bergin for Cleary, 26 mins; S. Dooley for Murphy, 44 mins; J. Brady for Hayden, 49 mins; S. Ryan for Mahon, 64 mins.
Referee – J. Sexton (Cork).