Faithful sunk by classy Cats
NO talk of revenge in Nowlan Park yesterday, just the slow stuttering to life of Kilkenny's season proper.
They may have been beaten by Offaly for the first time in 12 years in their Walsh Cup meeting last month, but the re-establishment of the natural order was completed in their NHL Division 1 clash with as little fuss or flair as was absolutely necessary.
Eventually, Kilkenny pulled away to win 1-17 to 0-12 but there was little enough to stir the imagination or the crowd as the Cats claimed their first two league points.
In fact, the loudest cheer of the day came after the match when the stadium announcer informed the faithful of the final result from Parnell Park.
For a while though, it looked like being a significant day for Kilkenny for all the wrong reasons after Richie Power was taken to hospital by ambulance after suffering an injury to his neck in first-half injury time.
The exact prognosis or the circumstances which caused the injury were not clear initially, but the Kilkenny medical team were taking no chances all the same.
"He's gone to the hospital and he's just getting an X-ray. So we'll wait and see it," explained Cats boss Brian Cody afterwards.
"He had stiffness in his neck. It's very hard to say what happened."
Thankfully though, Power was released from hospital last night with no serious injury. He is set to resume training tomorrow night and is expected to be available for Sunday when Kilkenny finally get their date with Tipperary in Thurles.
Cody wasn't unduly moved by the performance of his team, one bearing nine of the 15 players that started last September's All-Ireland final, but it was a win all the same.
The victory was an effective conglomerate of Kilkenny physicality, skill an intuition, though also one blemished by uncharacteristic errors.
Pick-ups were fluffed, hand passes were over cooked and wides were hit by players well within range and in plenty of space. A typical February performance, in other words.
Essentially though, Kilkenny had the artistry to make and take scores. Offaly struggled to win any ball against a majestic Cats half-back line.
"Yeah, the backs were decent," surmised Cody of the performances of Tommy Walsh, Jackie Tyrrell and JJ Delaney.
Joe Dooley though, was less frugal and probably a little fairer with his praise. "They're probably as a good a half-back line as ever played the game of hurling," the Offaly manager stated afterward and with some good reason.
Bar Conor Mahon -- who won three clean balls in the first half -- Offaly's half-forward line were forced into a state of complete redundancy by the above trio.
Walsh was, as ever, utterly brilliant. Majestic in the air, aggressive and skillful in the tackle and a whirlwind of effective energy in possession, Walsh was the dominant player on the pitch and Delaney wasn't too far behind him on the other wing. Had the Kilkenny forward line contained some of their more renowned ball-winners like Henry Shefflin, Martin Comerford or Eddie Brennan, the match could easily have been a rout.
As it transpired, few enough of the long deliveries actually stuck in the inside forward line, with only Michael Rice at centre-forward excelling of the Cats' front six.
Credit where it is due though, Offaly full-back David Kenny pushed Walsh all the way for the Man of the Match award and corner man Paul Cleary wasn't too far behind him before injury forced him off in the 51st minute.
Some of Kilkenny's most promising wannabes got a decent run out too, with John Mulhall in particular doing well after his introduction for Power, but it was the more established names who won the game.
Power accumulated eight points in the first half -- six frees and a '65 included -- before the injury, while it was Aidan Fogarty who struck for the game-turning score in the 42nd minute.
Somewhat inevitably, the genesis for the game's only goal was Walsh. Fielding another huge ball above Brian Carroll, he broke through two tackles and found Rice some 50 metres out.
The Carrickshock man slalomed past two Offaly men before shifting the ball out to the left to Fogarty who shot past Brian Mullins' left hand side.
With that, a game which in the first half looked like being decided on which team could win more scoreable frees and a straight shoot-out between Power and Shane Dooley, turned firmly in Kilkenny's favour.
They clipped five points in a rare period of fluidity between the 54th minute and the 65th and the result was decided.
"The goal was probably a little bit of a turning point and put a bit of daylight between the teams," surmised Dooley. "We fought to the bitter end.
"We're probably still not scoring enough up front and maybe giving away a few silly frees and spilling a few balls, it's probably something we need to sharpen up on before we play Dublin. "They were within their comfort zone but they're a very, very strong team and at home here in Nowlan Park they're always going to be hard to beat.
"We knew, I suppose, at the start of the League that in two away games against Cork and Kilkenny, we were going to be under pressure.
"Things maybe turned out the way we expected but it's the next four games that are the critical ones," added Dooley.
"Dublin had a great win against Tipperary so they're really going to be on a high so we'll be up against it in two weeks' time."