Kilkenny thundered past Tipperary for a place in the Allianz NHL Division One final, winning by 3-20 to 2-11 at Semple Stadium this afternoon.
Babs Keating's Tipp side proved no match for the reigning League champions as goals from Martin Comerford (3 minutes), James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick (14) and Henry Shefflin (66) booked a final date with Limerick for the hungry-looking Cats.
A fourth League title in five seasons certainly looks on the cards for Brian Cody's men after today's excellent showing.
Kilkenny, with fit-again duo Noel Hickey and Henry Shefflin back in the line-up, made a mockery of Tipp's 'home' advantage to go 2-03 to no score in front. 2000 All-Star Hickey, playing at left corner back, was forced off temporarily after a first minute challenge from Darragh Egan drew blood, but little seemed to deter Kilkenny from racing up their tally.
Centre forward Comerford opened the scoring when he smacked a delightful lob to the Tipp net. The same player added a point in the seventh minute, Shefflin curled over a free, Eoin Larkin opened his account and just before the quarter-hour, Fitzpatrick was worked in for his goal.
It was economical stuff from the Cats, who were fortunate not to concede a goal to Under-21 starlet Egan, whose shot twanged off the post in the ninth minute. Shefflin played in his Shamrocks club mate Fitzpatrick for Kilkenny's second goal. One-on-one with Tipp net minder Brendan Cummins, the UCC student buried his shot from ten yards out.
There were 14 minutes on the clock before Kelly pointed Tipp's opening point from a free. Cummins was called upon to prevent further goals for the rampant Cats as Larkin (’65) and Aidan Fogarty made it 2-05 to 0-01.
Kelly added another free but his score was swamped by Kilkenny overs from Larkin, Fogarty (0-02), Comerford, Willie O'Dwyer (0-02) and Fitzpatrick (0-02) as the half drew to a close.
Ken Dunne managed to open Tipp's account from play in the 33rd-minute and Keating's men did end the half on the up as John O'Brien added another point from play and in injury-time, Kelly raked home a goal from a 20-metre free, through a maze of bodies.
1-04 to 2-13 down at the break, Tipp managed to close the gap to ten with Egan, Paul Kelly and Eoin Kelly (free) cancelling out a Shefflin score in the early stages of the second half.
Predictably, Tipp, whose last League final appearance was back in 2001, had a spell of dominance as Kilkenny took their foot off the gas. Kilkenny 'keeper James McGarry had to react smartly to deny Diarmuid Fitzgerald a certain goal on 53 minutes, but Tipp's second goal did arrive from the rebound. Kelly blasted a fierce shot to the Kilkenny net to cut the deficit to 2-09 to 2-16.
The crowd sensed a revival and it would have been on had Tipp captain Ger 'Redser' O'Grady, who came off the bench, netted from a John Carroll pass. McGarry again stood up well.
Shefflin (0-02) and Fogarty exchanged points with the two Kellys before Kilkenny's third goal arrived courtesy of a smart shot to the right corner from Shefflin. Comerford added a final point (68) to see out a rousing victory. The ruthless McGarry copper-fastened his side's 12-point win, denying O'Brien a deserved goal at the death.