It may have been a game that they were expected to win, but Kilkenny still laid down a marker at Nowlan Park this evening as they crushed Laois in a one-sided encounter and easily marched to the top of the Leinster SHC table.
The Cats created chances at their ease this evening, racking up 17 wides and butchering a host of goal chances into the bargain, but there was never a stage in the game where Laois put their hosts under sufficient pressure to make those missed opportunities a matter of any concern, outside of long-term implications.
Four points in the first four minutes laid down a marker and while Charles Dwyer and James Keyes picked off some good scores to pull Laois back to 0-05 to 0-03, the only reason Kilkenny weren't further in front was their failure to find the target with a series of excellent chances, most notably a close range goal effort from Eoin Cody that was pushed into the side netting thanks to good pressure from Seán Downey.
James Maher and Adrian Mullen started using the deceptively strong breeze to pick off points from distance, Walter Walsh was a consistent threat on the right wing, both in terms of finishing scores and breaking tackles to create overlaps and opportunities for other players, while Eoin Cody and Pádraig Walsh also weighed in with good points, helping Kilkenny’s lead to grow out to double figures and beyond.
The Laois tactic of trying to use a sweeper to shore things up at the back meant that their forwards were consistently outnumbered, but there was more to this than a numbers game, as Kilkenny proved utterly dominant in the tackle, forcing any number of turnovers.
Laois had been living dangerously when it came to protecting their own goal, with two crucial interventions from Donnchadh Hartnett and a superb save from Enda Rowland keeping the green flag rooted in the turf, but even that run of good luck broke on the half hour mark.
A simple long ball into a two v two situation on the edge of the square broke kindly for Eoin Cody, and the Ballyhale man wasn’t about to waste what was his third goal chance of the half.
It was as if Laois knew their fate was sealed at that stage, and Kilkenny quickly fired over six more points before the break to make it 1-20 to 0-06, and effectively game over before it even warmed up.
Perhaps due to the wind, perhaps due to a sense of the job already being done on the Kilkenny side, Laois enjoyed a lot more possession and shooting chances in the second half, though they too struggled to convert those chances into scores, posting ten wides of their own in the second half.
PJ Scully knocked over a couple of early frees but the tactic of shooting from distance didn’t serve them well, and while the scoring rate at the other end of the field wasn’t quite as prolific, still the lead continued to grow.
A trademark run and finish from Paddy Purcell early in the final quarter stemmed the bleeding somewhat, while there was a late run of scores, featuring white flags raised by Ciarán McEvoy, Ryan Mullaney and Ciarán Byrne, but by now there was no masking the scale of Kilkenny’s dominance.
Substitute Tom Phelan enhanced his case for inclusion in the tougher tests ahead when he whipped in a goal, adding to an early point, but it was all cosmetic for Kilkenny at this stage, who were no doubt already looking forward to a very different challenge when they go to Pearse Stadium next Sunday.
For both Laois and Wexford, who meet in Portlaoise, there battle will be much more of a mission of redemption on both sides, following desperately poor performances this evening.
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Paddy Deegan, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh; Mikey Carey, Conor Browne, Mikey Butler; James Maher (0-02), Adrian Mullen (0-06); Walter Walsh (0-04), Pádraig Walsh (0-04), John Donnelly (0-02); Billy Ryan, TJ Reid (0-10, 0-07 frees), Eoin Cody (1-05).
Subs: Shane Walsh for Ryan (half-time), Tom Phelan (1-01) for Donnelly (46), Richie Reid for Deegan (49), Conor Delaney for Lawlor (56), Darragh Corcoran for T Walsh (62).
Laois: Enda Rowland; Seán Downey, Ciarán McEvoy (0-01), Donnchadh Hartnett; Jack Kelly, Liam O'Connell, Ryan Mullaney (0-01); Paddy Purcell (1-02), Aidan Corby (0-01); Charles Dwyer (0-03), Mark Dowling, Jordan Walsh; James Keyes (0-01), PJ Scully (0-04, frees), Fiachra C Fennell.
Subs: Ciaran Byrne (0-01) for Walsh (44), Eric Killeen for Corby (50), Brandon McGinley for Dowling (57), John Maher for Scully (69), Pádraic Dunne for O’Connell (69).
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)