Speed, strength and sharpness in scoring terms saw the Kilkenny minors charge past Laois and into the Leinster hurling final.
The Cats set up a second meeting with Dublin, the only side to beat them this year, when they outclassed their hosts in a sun-baked O’Moore Park on Saturday evening.
Alan Murphy led the way with a fine scoring exhibition for the winners, but it was his biggest offering which helped settle matters in Portlaoise.
Looking over their shoulders after Laois had closed to within two points by the 36th minute (0-13 to 0-11), one swift attack down the right paved Kilkenny’s way to Croke Park.
Sean Morrissey was the catalyst, directing play down the right flank. A clever pass picked out full-forward Liam Blanchfield, but it was his deft hand-pass which got things going.
The direction of the delivery was just right for the incoming Murphy, who barely had to check his stride before crashing an unstoppable shot beyond the diving Paul Simms and into the bottom right corner of the scoreboard end net.
Opening with the breeze, Kilkenny were fast off the break. Using their speed to good effect they were quickest to react to the breaking ball, using that to fashion some solid points.
It also helped that they had a bright pair in midfield. Conor Browne and Luke Scanlon fared best in the opening exchanges, rattling off their side’s opening three points between them. Scanlon grabbed two, then added a third to his tally when he picked off a Darren Brennan free in midfield and surged through the Laois defence, pausing only to split the posts.
Laois seemed hesitant to take on their opponents in some challenges, a move which paid off for Kilkenny. After just nine minutes they were four points to the good (0-6 to 0-2), a lead they increased to five by the end of the first quarter.
Working the ball around well they had the Laois backs at sixes and sevens. Liam Blanchfield, Alan Murphy (two frees) and Ronan Corcoran all profited as Laois stood off and let their opponents dictate play.
While Mark Kavanagh (two frees) and Andrew Mortimer got Laois off the mark it proved slim pickings for the hosts, who just couldn’t seem to get to grips with Kilkenny’s swift style. As if to prove a point, the visitors helped themselves to more points, Ronan Corcoran bagging one from a tight angle after being picked out by Liam Blanchfield’s impressive reverse pass.
Foot on the throttle
They kept their foot on the throttle, Browne and Scanlon dominating midfield and keeping a bountiful supply of ball going to their forwards, who knew what to do with it.
Sean Morrissey grabbed a fine point, adding the finishing touch to a sweeping 20th minute move which started with Scanlon picking off a Laois puck-out. The sliotar was then worked through the possession of Murphy and Corcoran; Morrissey did the rest.
Laois did hit back on the double, Kavanagh pointing a free before Aaron Dunphy won possession in the middle and drove forward, pausing only to point. It was a good score, but Laois just didn’t do enough of that in the game.
Kilkenny looked like finishing the half on a high. Sean Morrissey made great use of space on the right to fire over a 22nd minute point, closely followed by Murphy’s fourth free of the half. He added his fifth point soon after, a first from play, but Laois managed to close the gap before the break.
Robbie Phelan gave his side a little hope when he gobbled up a loose ball and turned it into a point. That spark flickered a little brighter when Andrew Mortimer chipped in with another in injury-time. From looking out of sorts at stages, Laois went in just four points behind the comfortable-looking leaders (0-13 to 0-9).
Now playing with the breeze, Laois gave a concerted effort after the restart. Mark Kavanagh’s first point from play narrowed the gap, which was down to two points once the corner-forward converted a 65.
Kavanagh would go on to add two more frees by the 43rd minute, but by that stage Alan Murphy had struck a hammer-blow to Laois hopes with his thundering goal. The strike proved to be decisive, as with it Kilkenny had constructed a vast obstacle the hosts couldn’t scale.
There were three points between the sides as the match ticked into the final 10 minutes (1-16 to 0-16), but Kilkenny never looked to be in trouble.
To prove it, they stepped up the pace again in the closing stages, striding away to a bigger winning margin. Sub John Walsh added a point (but only after he and Eoin Kenny had been denied goals by two saves in quick succession from Paul Simms).
Three more Murphy points and one from Jack Keoghan spelled game over. Next destination: Croke Park in July.
SCORERS: Kilkenny - Alan Murphy (1-9, 0-7 frees); Luke Scanlon (0-4); Sean Morrissey, Liam Blanchfield (0-2 each); Jack Keoghan, Conor Browne, Ronan Corcoran, John Walsh (0-1 each). Laois - Mark Kavanagh (0-9, 0-7 frees, 0-1 65); Liam O’Connell (0-1, free); Andrew Mortimer, Aaron Dunphy (0-2 each); Kevin Bergin, Robbie Phelan (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - Darren Brennan (St Lachtain’s), Conor Doheny (Dicksboro), Conor Delaney (Erin’s Own), Cathal McGrath (John Lockes), Darren Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Jason Cleere (Bennettsbridge), Darragh Joyce (Rower-Inistioge), Conor Browne (James Stephens), Luke Scanlon (James Stephens), Sean Morrissey (Bennettsbridge), Donnacha O’Connor (Tullogher-Rosbercon), Billy Ryan (Graigue-Ballycallan), Ronan Corcoran (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Liam Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), Alan Murphy (Glenmore). Subs: Eoin Kenny (Slieverue) for O’Connor, 23 mins; John Walsh (Mullinavat) for Browne, 40 mins; Ross Butler (O’Loughlin Gaels) for Corcoran, 48 mins; Jack Keoghan (Tullaroan) for Ryan, 54 mins; Robbie Donnelly (Thomastown) for Blanchfield, 60 mins.
Laois - Paul Simms, Donnacha Hartnett, Denis Cahill, Evan Cuddy, Lee Cleere, Ryan Mullaney, Conor Phelan, Liam O’Connell, John Lennon, Aidan Corby, Kevin Bergin, Robbie Phelan, Mark Kavanagh, Andrew Mortimer, Aaron Dunphy. Subs: Sean Downey for Cahill, 45 mins; Richie Saunders for Dunphy, 53 mins; Jack Kelly for Cleere, 60 mins.
Referee - Michael Murtagh (Westmeath).