KILKENNY 2-19 GALWAY 0-17 AFTER the deep disappointments of the past two years, Kilkenny will try everything to wriggle off the favourites' hook for the Guinness All-Ireland hurling final against Offaly in four weeks time, but it won't work.
There was a ruthless efficiency about the manner in which they demolished Galway in the second half of yesterday's semi-final that left nobody in any doubt as to the wellbeing of Kilkenny 2000.
Galway, unbeaten in competitive games for over a year, were tossed aside as Kilkenny showed off their vast array of skills to the 42,436 Croke Park crowd.
In the end, Galway were glad to hear the final whistle because, by then, hopes of reaching the All-Ireland final for the first time in seven years had been replaced by a damage limitation mission.
Not that it was going very well either as Kilkenny were creating the very distinct impression that their winning margin would have been considerably bigger had the game lasted another five minutes.
As it was, they had scored 2-19 and left Galway reeling in a black and amber slipstream which oozed power, passion and poise.
They out-scored Galway by 1-11 to 0-5 in the second half with a truly remarkable performance.
A Kilkenny landslide looked most unlikely at half time when they trailed by a point, 0-12 to 1-8 after a tight, tense and bruising opening 35 minutes.
Galway had matched them in all departments - beating them in some - and were playing with the sort of intensity and unity which wore down Tipperary in the quarter-final.
The decision to send midfielder, Alan Kerins, to left half-forward in a switch with David Tierney worked brilliantly.
Tierney was really on his game in the middle while Kerins gave Philip Larkin a nightmare start, scoring four points from play in the first 25 minutes.
Ollie Canning, who had changed from half forward to corner back since the All-Ireland quarter-final, was also doing well, so Galway seemed to have got everything just right.
Okay, they were a bit sloppy defensively in the 9th minute when a massive gap appeared in front of goal and Andy Comerford powered through to whip home Kilkenny's first goal.
But Galway recovered quickly and their solid work ethic set up plenty of possession for Kerins and Co.
They led by two points (0-8 to 1-3) after 22 minutes and had a point to spare at the interval.
But despite their advantage, they must have been worried by their failure to squeeze more scores from lots of possession and they rarely threatened James McGarry in the Kilkenny goal.
Michael Crimmins had a far busier schedule between the Galway posts, and, apart from being beaten by Comerford's effort, was lucky to see a shot from the unmarked Henry Shefflin deflected wide in the 26th minute. Significantly, Denis Byrne pointed the resultant 65.
Byrne was to emerge as one of Galway's main tormentors, knocking over several brilliant points.
If Byrne was the man of the match, it was another familiar face who landed possibly the most hurtful blow of all three minutes into the second half at a time when Galway had extended their lead to two points.
Galway have always lived in dread of DJ Carey - and with good reason. He always seems to reserve his best for them, and he unhinged the Tribesmen again in the 39th minute when he collected a high ball, spun to Brian Feeney's right and fired home a great goal to give his side a lead they never lost.
A minute later, Rory Gantley, so good on placed balls this year, drove a simple free wide. The Galway rot was beginning to set in and Eugene Cloonan missed another easy placed ball five minutes later.
Suddenly, it all began to look horribly ominous. It got worse. Cloonan drove over the bar when a goal was on and with Byrne, Shefflin, Carey and co growing in confidence, the pressure on the Galway defence was relentless.
Paul Hardiman, who had fought a losing battle with Byrne, became the first casualty, hauled ashore in the 48th minute.
Liam Hodgins, who felt the full force of Shefflin's excellence, was also replaced as Galway manager Mattie Murphy desperately tried to steady his creaking defence.
He also sent on Kevin Broderick and Joe Cooney in an effort to inject more life into the attack, but Kilkenny were in no mood to loosen their grip and remained in comfortable control right to the finish.
While the attack will take much of the kudos, it would be unfair to ignore the Kilkenny defence's contribution to their third successive All-Ireland semi-final win.
Centre-back Eamonn Kennedy may have his critics, but he gave them a hard time yesterday. He grew with the challenge and was totally dominant in the second half.
Joe Rabbitte tried to use his aerial skills to good effect, but Kennedy coped brilliantly, which meant one of Galway's primary target men could make no major impact.
Peter Barry, Michael Kavanagh and Willie O'Connor also cleared lots of ball, leaving goalkeeper McGarry with a pretty safe passage. He was beaten in the 66th minute by a stinging cross goal drive from Broderick, but the ball thudded off the post and back to safety.
It was that type of day for Galway. Not that they can blame bad luck for their defeat.
The truth was that they were totally out-classed in the second half by a Kilkenny team which marches into the All-Ireland final after beating Dublin, Offaly and Galway by 15, 11 and 8 points respectively.
Impressive stuff, and there could be more to come.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Denis Byrne (Kilkenny).
SCORERS - Kilkenny: D Byrne 0-8 (1f, 2 65s), H Shefflin 0-7 (4f), D J Carey 1-2 (1f), A Comerford 1-0, C Carter, J Power 0-1 each. Galway: A Kerins 0-5, E Cloonan 0-5 (3f), R Gantley 0-4 (2f, 2'65's), D Tierney, O Fahy, M Healy 0-1 each.
KILKENNY - J McGarry; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, W O'Connor; P Larkin, E Kennedy, P Barry; A Comerford, B McEvoy; D Byrne, J Power, S Grehan; C Carter, DJ Carey, H Shefflin. Sub: JP Corcoran for Grehan (62).
GALWAY - M Crimmins; L Hodgins, B Feeney, O Canning; F Gantley, C Moore, P Hardiman; R Gantley, D Tierney; J Rabbitte, M Kerins, A Kerins; F Healy, O Fahy, E Cloonan. Subs: K Broderick for M Kerins (48), B Higgins for Hardiman (48), V Maher for Hodgins (54), J Cooney for Healy (56).
REF - P O' Connor (Limerick).