Murphy adds gloss for Cats
Kilkenny 1-21 Westmeath 1-11
Kilkenny did what was expected of them in Mullingar but the scoreline was harsh on Westmeath, who looked like they might replicate last year's shock victory for three-quarters of a keenly contested game.
Wind-assisted Westmeath hurled well from the outset, with Niall Mitchell pointing after a mere seven seconds. An opportunist goal in the 18th minute by James Goonery, after Darren Brennan had kept out Shane Clavin's initial shot, put the hosts 1-4 to 0-5 ahead.
Westmeath hit nine wides to the Cats' four in the first half. A Killian Doyle free with the last puck of the half left them ahead by 1-7 to 0-9 at the break.
Kilkenny played with more urgency on the change of ends and their substitutes, especially Richie Leahy and Eoin Kenny, made telling contributions, while John Donnelly stood out at centre- forward.
They led by just a point (0-14 to 1-10) midway through the second half but their superior power and skill-set showed in the final quarter.
Sean Maher pulled off two great saves to keep Westmeath in touch but he was eventually beaten by the outstanding Alan Murphy in the last minute of normal time.
Scorers - Kilkenny: A Murphy 1-8 (0-7fs, 0-1 '65'), J Donnelly, S Morrissey 0-3 each, P Lyng, R Leahy 0-2 each, L Scanlon, E Kenny, L Blanchfield 0-1 each. Westmeath: K Doyle 0-8 (6fs), J Goonery 1-0, N Mitchell 0-3.
Kilkenny - D Brennan; M Cody, C Delaney, J Burke; C Doheny, J Cleere, T Walsh; L Scanlon, P Lyng; A Murphy, J Donnelly, S Morrissey; S Walsh, L Blanchfield, B Ryan. Subs: D Mullen for Doheny (h-t), R Leahy for S Walsh (h-t), E Kenny for Blanchfield (43), R Bergin for Burke (57), C Hennessy for Donnelly (60 + 1).
Westmeath - S Maher; S Quinn, C Shaw, D Giles; N McKenna, D Egerton, J Rabbitte; M Daly, S Clavin; D Clinton, K Doyle, N Mitchell; J Goonery, C Doyle, J Galvin. Subs: D Finn for Rabbitte (46), J Bermingham for Goonery (57), A Loughlin for Clinton (60 + 1).
Ref - J Keenan (Wicklow).