By Mike FitzpatrickKilkenny 3-12, Offaly 1-13
The big guns of senior hurling — Tipperary, Limerick and Westmeath — are all on top of their form at the moment, and perhaps expectedly, are tipped for playoff places. The one remaining place, then, will be contested by the remaining teams in the division, two of which battled against each other here Sunday at Gaelic Park in the Bronx.
With such sides as Waterford and Clare also in contention, a victory was vital for both teams on display. Kilkenny have not had the best of times in the last year, enduring a disastrous season last year when they failed to win a game. Offaly, on the other hand, under the guidance of Sean Guinan, opened up in hot form with a cracking display versus former champions Limerick, but though holding the upper hand versus their highly fancied opponents for much of the game, they lost out on the all-important two points when Limerick clinched a draw in the dying moments.
Kilkenny are, by all accounts, a different club this time around. With plenty of new faces, and a number of their squad from last year having gone back to Ireland, it seems
all change for the Cats. Sunday’s game itself, as we knew it would be, was a hotly contested affair, with both sides going for scores from the off. Kilkenny held the upper hand throughout the first half thanks in the most part to
scores from Mark O’Brien, and Brendan Ryan, who both netted crucial goals in the first period. Adding to this a fine defensive display from Marky Kennedy, and points from Cats veteran Kevin Corbett and O’Brien, and Kilkenny held a four-point lead at the break. Offaly did fight on, however. David Henry had a fine game in the middle of the park, and, along with half forward Damian Beatty, hit the majority of Offaly’s scores in the first half.
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The dueling continued in the second half, with Offaly coming close to snatching the lead with Henry grabbing a few more points, and Colm Scanlon and Donal Miller adding one each to their side’s tally.
Kilkenny sub Tom Leharte, however, hit a couple of second half points to edge his side in front, but the real killer was a shot under the bar from Brendan Ryan, his second, and his side’s third goal of the game, which edged Kilkenny into a more superior lead. A late goal from Offaly’s Henry gave the tie a little more respectability, but Kilkenny will have walked away from Gaelic Park with pride in their hearts, and, more important, two championship points in the bag.
Offaly: Paddy Donoghue, Enda Condron, Kieran Clavin, Brian Delaney, David Reynolds, Pat Leavy, Sean Nolan, David Henry (1-6), Damian Beatty (0-3), Sean Donoghue (0-2), Nigel Carney, Colm Scanlon (0-1), Donal Miller (0-1). Sub: Gus Murray.
Kilkenny: James Joyce, Mark Kennedy, Darragh Moore, Dave Brennan, Don Ryan, Eoin Mullally, Peter Breen (0-1), Mark O’Brien (1-2), Jerome Edge (0-1), Brendan Ryan (2-1), MJ Furlong (0-2), Kevin Corbett, James Fitzgerald (0-1). Sub: Tom Leharte (0-1).