/ GAA

Kilkenny 2-24 Offaly 0-12

Updated: Sunday, 15 Jun 2008 21:21

Henry Shefflin was in fine form after his recent return from injury Martin Comerford scored the opening goal for Kilkenny
Henry Shefflin was in fine form after his recent return from injury Martin Comerford scored the opening goal for Kilkenny

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Kilkenny breezed through to the Leinster SHC final as they claimed their 20th win in 21 provincial outings since 1998.

In front of an 8,151-strong Portlaoise crowd, the All-Ireland champions ominously had Henry Shefflin (0-11) back in top-scoring form.

Brian Carroll contributed three early points for Offaly but Martin Comerford's injury-time goal gave the Cats a 1-09 to 0-06 interval lead.

Despite good showings from substitutes Joe Brady and Shane Dooley, Offaly continued to be second best and substitute Aidan Fogarty netted late on for Kilkenny.

Shefflin was back in competitive action for the first time since tearing his cruciate ligament in last year's All-Ireland final win over Limerick.

'King Henry' had as positive a run-out as possible as he lasted the full 70 minutes and led his side's scoring as Kilkenny set up a Leinster final meeting with either Dublin or Wexford.

The Ballyhale Shamrocks ace had four points on the board inside the first 13-and-a-half minutes.

The defending champions led by 0-04 to 0-01 at that stage, with Brian Carroll snatching Offaly's lone score from a seventh-minute free.

Carroll, who won the Hurler of the Month award following his impressive scoring against Laois in the previous round, could only manage two further points before the interval.

As the Cats established a 'double scores' half-time advantage, Shefflin's brilliance was certainly felt as he sent over seven first half points.

He also had a hand in the Cats' first goal which Martin Comerford finished to the net.

Shefflin had done most of the groundwork and showed great skill in carving through the Offaly defence, before giving a quick hand-pass to the advancing Comerford.

The right half-forward had no hesitation in planting the ball past Brian Mullins in the Offaly goal, at the town end of O'Moore Park.

A heavy shower of rain at half-time left conditions slippery for the second half, and although the rain did not ease until the 39th-minute, there was nothing damp about Kilkenny's performance in the early stages of the half.

Eddie Brennan, Comerford and Shefflin all added points, while Derek Molloy and Carroll were wide of the target for Offaly.

Kilkenny kept the pressure on and led by 1-14 to 0-06 - a comfortable 11-point margin - seven minutes into the second period.

Offaly's only score of the third quarter then followed in the 43rd-minute when first half substitute Joe Bergin sent over his second point of the game.

But there was little to stop Kilkenny's charge through to another Croke Park decider, and with Carroll among those misfiring for Offaly, it just was not the Faithfuls' day.

Joe Dooley's charges tried hard with the likes of Carroll, Bergin, Joe Brady and Shane Dooley performing strongly.

But the Cats continued to prosper in front of goal and with a 15-point lead under their arm as the game entered the final quarter, there was no doubt who the eventual winners would be.

Brian Mullins could not be faulted between the posts for Offaly and the stand-in captain kept the Kilkenny attack at bay on a couple of occasions in the second half.

He was left a very tough task by his defensive colleagues who found it hard to cope with a talent-laden Kilkenny side.

Any chance for Offaly to resurrect this game was firmly put to bed ten minutes from the end.

Substitutes Willie O'Dwyer and Aidan Fogarty were only two minutes on the pitch when they combined for the Cats' second goal, with Fogarty's planted finish giving Mullins on chance.

Offaly could only manage six points in the second half with four from Carroll and two from full-forward Ger Healion.

In contrast, Brennan, Shefflin, Comerford, Michael Rice, Eoin Larkin and Richie Hogan were amongst those who raised white flags for Brian Cody's charges in the closing 35 minutes.

Ten players in total scored for Kilkenny in a game that was far from edge of the seat stuff.

The hope is for a much more competitive affair in the July 6 final, but Dublin or Wexford, who meet next Sunday in their semi-final replay, will need to something special to detrone Cody's side.

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, J Dalton; J 'Cha' Fitzpatrick (0-01), M Fennelly (0-01); M Comerford (1-01), M Rice (0-02), E Brennan (0-02); R Hogan (0-01), E Larkin (0-04), H Shefflin (0-11, 0-09f, 0-01 '65').

Subs used: W O'Dwyer for Comerford (9-11 mins, blood sub), A Fogarty (1-00) for Comerford, W O'Dwyer for Rice, PJ Delaney for B Hogan (inj) (all 59), TJ Reid (0-01) for R Hogan (63), R Mullally for Fennelly (65).

Offaly: B Mullins; D Franks, D Kenny, M Verney; D Horan, G Oakley, R Hanniffy (0-01); J Rigney, C Mahon; B Murphy, P Cleary, D Molloy (0-01); B Carroll (0-06, 0-02f, 0-01 '65'), G Healion (0-02), D Hayden.

Subs used: K Brady for Rigney (15 mins), J Bergin (0-02) for Cleary (26), S Dooley for Murphy (44), J Brady for Hayden (49), S Ryan for Mahon (65).

Referee: John Sexton (Cork).