Kilkenny may have secured the semi-final berth in the Allianz league that everyone expected them to earn this afternoon, but they were made to fight for every minute of their clash with Offaly at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park and only came through when late points from Walter Walsh and TJ Reid edged them back in front in second half injury time.
Four points from the big Tullogher-Rosbercon full forward and an even dozen for Reid, nine from placed balls, made up the bulk of the scoring workload for the Cats but outside of that Brian Cody will be a little concerned that only Liam Blanchfield and substitute John Donnelly made any meaningful impression on the scoreboard.
Offaly’s threat was a lot more evenly spread, with all six attackers getting on the scoresheet from play in the opening half.
They hit the ground running right from the start, with Conor Mahon firing the ball over the bar after 40 seconds and while Kilkenny roared back into the tie with the next three scores, Offaly showed no signs of intimidation or fear and hung in there with a series of excellent scores from play, including glorious points from range from Cillian Kiely and Shane Kinsella.
Walter Walsh’s deceptively quick runs out from the edge of the square yielded a couple of points for the Cats as they kept their noses in front for most of the first half, but Offaly seized the lead with just a few minutes to go before half time, Conor Mahon kicking the ball to the net after Cillian Kiely’s low delivery from underneath the stand bounced into the square and wasn’t cleared at the first attempt by the Kilkenny backline.
Offaly weren’t done either and two points from Colin Egan gave them a 1-10 to 0-10 interval lead, but Kilkenny wasted no time in turning the tide after the break and within six minutes they had drawn level through two points from TJ Reid and a simple catch and score from Liam Blanchfield.
The breeze behind Darren Brennan allowed the St. Lachtain’s man to fire his puckouts right on top of the head of Walsh in the middle of the "D", and the big attacker won a series of frees that allowed Kilkenny move three points in front, 0-18 to 1-12, midway through the half.
It looked at that stage as if the Cats would power home and win with something to spare, but Kevin Martin’s side dug deep and picked off some inspirational scores in the closing minutes, none better than Shane Dooley’s remarkable strike from right out under the terrace, just 15 metres in from the end line.
When Conor Mahon caught a ball and drew a foul from Joey Holden that allowed Dooley to level the tie, the home supporters could dare to dream – but as they have done all their careers, Walsh and Reid stepped up to crush those dreams and wrap up another win for Kilkenny.
OFFALY: Eoghan Cahill; Tom Spain, Seán Gardiner, Ben Conneely; David O’Toole, Dermot Shortt, Pat Camon; Shane Kinsella (0-02), David King; Conor Mahon (1-02), Cillian Kiely (0-01), Colin Egan (0-02); Joe Bergin (0-02), Shane Dooley (0-08, 0-05 frees), Dan Currams (0-01).
Subs: Paddy Rigney for Gardiner (47), Oisín Kelly for Kiely (58), Damien Egan for Kinsella (58), Tommy Geraghty for C Egan (67), Sean Ryan for Rigney (70+2)
KILKENNY: Darren Brennan; Joey Holden, Padraig Walsh, Paddy Deegan; Conor Delaney, Cillian Buckley, Conor Browne; Richie Leahy, Ollie Walsh; Liam Blanchfield (0-03), TJ Reid (0-12, 0-09 frees), James Maher (0-02); Ger Aylward (0-01), Walter Walsh (0-04), Richie Reid
Subs: Luke Scanlon for Aylward (41), John Donnelly (0-02) for O Walsh (41), Lester Ryan for Leahy (61), Enda Morrissey for Browne (64), Alan Murphy for R Reid (65)
Ref: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)