Leinster SHC: Cats overcome goal-hungry Offaly

June 09, 2013

Kilkenny's Colin Fennelly with Offaly's David Kenny and Dermot Mooney
©INPHO/Ken Sutton
Kilkenny 0-26
Offaly 4-9

Kilkenny conceded four goals, but their scoring power still proved too much for Offaly as they qualified for a Leinster SHC semi-final against either Dublin or Wexford at a sweltering O'Connor Park this afternoon.

Eoin Larkin shot 0-11 from frees as the All-Ireland champions upped the ante in the second half to pull away for a five-point victory after trailing by 0-11 to 2-6 at the interval. But their defensive display will be a cause for concern with tougher tests to come.

A gutsy Offaly side got in for four goals, two of which were scored by full forward Joe Bergin. Indeed, the untypically slack Kilkenny rearguard was fortunate not to concede another major in the second half when their goalkeeper Eoin Murphy spilled a ball which must have been very close to crossing the line.

Showing little regard for their opponents' lofty reputation, Offaly tore into Kilkenny in the first half with Colin Egan's first-minute goal giving them a dream start. Bergin nearly burst the Kilkenny net with a second goal in the 13th minute as the home side powered into a five-point lead.

But a lack of discipline at the back - they had four players booked in the opening half - was punished by the unerring Larkin, who had a 100 per cent success rate from frees. With Richie Power and Richie Hogan coming more into the game, the Cats tagged on 15 points in the second half, but they will need to improve if they're to regain their provincial crown in the coming weeks.

On a day when Brian Cody made his return to the Kilkenny sideline after undergoing heart surgery in the spring and Henry Shefflin sat out his first championship match since making his debut in 1999, Offaly got off to the best possible start when Colin Egan rattled the All-Ireland champions' net inside the first minute after the ball had come back off the upright.

Eoin Larkin settled Kilkenny with a third-minute free after Cathal Parlon was yellow-carded for a high challenge on Richie Hogan. Hogan narrowed the gap with Kilkenny's first from play before Offaly 'keeper James Dempsey denied Colin Fennelly a goal after Richie Power had soloed through the heart of the Faithful defence.

From the resultant '65, Larkin split the posts to bring the Cats level. The visitors were then forced into making an early change which saw Conor Fogarty replace Jackie Tyrrell at corner back. Offaly regained the lead in the sixth minute when corner back Ciaran McDonald pointed from inside his own half.

Ger Healion won a free after making an inspirational catch on his own '65, and Shane Dooley duly slotted over for the wind-assisted hosts. Healion's fellow half back Parlon was lucky not to receive a second yellow card for a wild pull on TJ Reid as the Kilkenny man fielded a high ball.

Richie Hogan set up Aidan Fogarty for Kilkenny's fourth point before Brian Cody's men were rocked back on their heels for a second time when Joe Bergin ran onto James Dempsey's long puck-out and fired an unstoppable shot to the top left corner of Eoin Murphy's net.

So, after 13 minutes, the underdogs led by 2-2 to 0-4. Another Larkin free put a dent in that before points from Colin Egan and Dooley ('65) made it double scores, 2-4 to 0-5.

Kilkenny had a couple of uncharacteristic wides, but Larkin was on fire from frees and kept them within touching distance with two in-a-row. Shane Dooley earned a free which he converted himself at the other end before Dermot Mooney and David Kenny both picked up yellow cards for separate fouls on the raiding Aidan Fogarty. Once again, Larkin did the needful from the resultant free to cut the gap to three points, 0-8 to 2-5.

Brian Carroll's snapshot yielded Offaly's sixth point in the 28th minute, but that score was quickly cancelled out by Larkin following a foul on Richie Power by Ger Healion. Larkin slotted over his seventh free after Hogan was fouled and the ball was brought forward for dissent.

In the final minute of the half, Kilkenny made their second substitution which saw Aidan Fogarty make way for last year's All-Ireland final replay man of the match Walter Walsh. On the stroke of half-time, Colin Fennelly added to TJ Reid's high delivery for the Noresiders' 11th point, which left the minimum in it at the break.

Kilkenny were quickly out of the starting blocks for the second half. It took them less than two minutes to take the lead for the first time thanks to another Larkin free and a TJ Reid effort. Richie Power followed up with two points in as many minutes to give the Cats a 0-15 to 2-6 advantage with 40 minutes elapsed.

Midfielder Lester Ryan landed what was only Kilkenny's fourth point from play before Shane Dooley finally opened Offaly's second half account with his fourth free in the 43rd minute. The momentum remained with the Cats, however, who added three more unanswered points per Larkin (two frees) and Tommy Walsh.

Dooley broke the scoring sequence from a free as Offaly manager Ollie Baker attempted to freshen things up by introducing Sean Ryan and Thomas Carroll for Kevin Brady and Ciaran Slevin respectively.

But Kilkenny remained firmly in the driving seat. Brian Hogan (after some confusion between the umpires), Richie Hogan and Richie Power raised white flags to push out the All-Ireland champions' lead to eight points, 0-22 to 2-8, with the hour-mark approaching.

Colin Egan brought his tally for the afternoon to 1-2 before the Faithful were thrown a lifeline when substitute Dan Currams showed great perseverance to score their third goal in the 63rd minute.

Kilkenny, in typical fashion, replied with four points on the trot from Richie Hogan, Power (free) and substitutes Walter Walsh and Matt Ruth to regain an eight-point lead.

But Offaly - who will take great encouragement from this performance - never gave up and were rewarded with a fourth goal in the second minute of stoppage-time when Bergin rose highest to flick Brian Carroll's high centre to the net.

Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh (0-01), B Hogan (0-01), K Joyce; L Ryan (0-01), M Rice; TJ Reid (0-01), R Power (0-04, 0-01f), E Larkin (0-11, 0-10f, 0-01'65); C Fennelly (0-01), R Hogan (0-03), A Fogarty (0-01). Subs: C Fogarty for Tyrrell (5 mins), W Walsh (0-01) for A Fogarty (34 mins), C Buckley for Reid (57 mins), M Ruth (0-01) for Larkin (57 mins), P Hogan for Rice (59 mins).

Offaly: J Dempsey; C McDonald (0-01), D Kenny, K Brady; R Hanniffy, G Healion, C Parlon; C Mahon, D Mooney; S Cleary, B Carroll (0-01), C Slevin; S Dooley (0-05, 0-04f, 0-01'65), C Egan (1-02), J Bergin (2-00). Subs: D Currams (1-00) for S Cleary (half-time), P Cleary for Kenny (42-47 mins & 54-64 blood), D Molloy for Mahon (45 mins), S Ryan for Brady (52 mins), T Carroll for Slevin (52 mins).

Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).

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