'Offaly are light years behind... it's getting harder'
Carroll fears for Faithful's future after Sky cameras capture another mauling from Cats
Save a stark, futuristic cube perched at a corner of the Carroll Stand and the unfamiliar congestion of TV trucks at the rear, Nowlan Park could have passed for any conventional funeral home on Saturday evening.
Kilkenny 5-31 Offaly 1-18 - Leinster SHC
But we knew that the pitiless burial of Offaly had an international audience now and that somewhere, above in that studio glinting in the sun like something constructed by NASA, they were trying to peel the edges off a 26-point slaughter without betraying what every last man, woman and child on the premises knew.
This wasn't so much the GAA we treasure as one of the sporadic glitches in it we dread. The game blared out a thousand weary parables about privilege and neglect, ambition and despair. Offaly, just weeks after getting tangled up in a Division 1B relegation play-off against Kerry, came hoping to contain the game's great modern juggernaut.
How? With the erection of a picket fence.
Their use of a sweeper was, essentially, the only tool at Brian Whelahan's disposal and, within 20 minutes, he had abandoned it in the face of a scoreboard turning quicker than the spinning digits of a petrol pump. By the mid-point, Kilkenny led 2-22 to 0-6, Sky Sports broadcasting a turkey.
Some time after it ended, a bare-footed Brian Carroll took himself to a quiet corner of the dressing-room tunnel and chatted to media with the quiet, intelligent grace of a man who knows his career looks doomed to pass without glory or tumult.
Thirteen years a county man and just one Leinster final appearance to declare, Carroll, and his goalkeeper James Dempsey, had been lonely Offaly voices of defiance railing against demoralising odds. On another day, his personal contribution of 1-11 might have put his name up in lights. But, here, it was buried in the small print.
"It's harder and harder to keep going to the well, I won't lie," he sighed. "This wasn't a pretty day for Offaly hurling and it's going to take a lot of soul-searching, a lot of hard work.
"All we can do is look to the qualifiers, but Offaly have a way bigger problem than that at the moment. And we're going to have to really look at that problem or there will be no future for Offaly hurling.
"We're light years behind in terms of under-age development at the moment and the facilities that we're working with aren't good enough.
"You know we beat Kilkenny in minor in 2000 and there was absolute upheaval in Kilkenny over it. They'd won nine Leinsters in a row and we beat them one time and they absolutely changed everything. So, you've got to look at what other counties are doing.
"I mean, there's a sore debate in Offaly at the moment about whether Offaly should be playing their hurling, in Birr or Tullamore. But I think that's even missing the picture."
The poverty of resource and structure in Offaly is an old story, though, that he was loathe to use as "a crutch" for Saturday's annihilation. Likewise Whelahan, one of the greatest hurlers the game has known, now at the helm of a badly listing vessel.
Offaly's young manager watched certain players' heads drop just 20 minutes in and, thereafter, was largely helpless as Kilkenny stamped a boot on their throats.
"It's going to be very very hard," he replied when asked how his team might now regroup for the qualifiers.
Power and movement referenced everything Brian Cody's men did, particularly in attack, where Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin and TJ Reid all looked close to unplayable.
Larkin forced home their opening goal in the 14th minute after Dempsey had brilliantly parried a Walter Walsh shot.
Colin Fennelly added the second seven minutes later, pulling first-time after the overworked Dempsey parried another piledriver, this time from Michael Fennelly who'd been put clean through by Richie Hogan.
By now, Whelahan had abandoned the sweeper system, but his team were wrestling with a ruthless force here.
Cody hauled young Brian Kennedy ashore on 27 minutes after the leakage of a couple of scores to Carroll and he would throw in Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan in a second-half double-substitution loudly welcomed from the stands. Tommy's subsequent spillage of three wides would then draw the pantomime roars of giddy locals in a 11,841 attendance. Easy laughter abounded.
Dempsey had pulled off remarkable saves from Colin Fennelly and Reid before Mark Kelly goaled twice in the 42nd and 48th minutes and Carroll kicked an Offaly consolation to the net, before Larkin buried Kilkenny's fifth two minutes from the end of normal time.
"We are better than that," sighed Carroll afterwards.
"As an Offaly man and a proud Offaly man, it's going to be hard to come out of this and pick the lads up."
The issues facing Cody were more palatable.
Reid described himself as "hopeful" that the knee injury that forced his substitution would not prevent him lining out against Galway next Sunday week and it was confirmed that both Henry Shefflin and Richie Power will return to full training this week.
"I said after the league final that we were probably at a better stage than we were this time last year, but now the question is can we prove that?" shrugged the Kilkenny boss.
"That's where we're going now in two weeks' time, to see is that the situation or not."
Scorers: Kilkenny: E Larkin 2-4, C Fennelly 1-6, M Kelly 2-0, TJ Reid 0-6 (2fs), W Walsh 0-4, M Fennelly, R Hogan, A Fogarty 0-3 each, L Ryan 0-2. P Murphy 0-1. Offaly: B Carroll 1-11 (0-6fs), C Parlon, C Mahon, S Ryan, J Bergin, D Currams, S Quirke, S Dooley 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: E Murphy 7; P Murphy 7, JJ Delaney 7, B Kennedy 6; P Walsh 7, J Tyrrell 7, C Buckley 7; L Ryan 7, R Hogan 7; W Walsh 8, M Fennelly 8, TJ Reid 8, C Fennelly 9, M Kelly 7, E Larkin 9. Subs: K Joyce 6 for Kennedy (27), T Walsh 6 for C Fennelly and B Hogan 6 for P Walsh (50), A Fogarty 8 for Reid (57), JJ Farrell 6 for M Fennelly (61).
Offaly: J Dempsey 9; N Wynne 6, R Hanniffy 8, J Rigney 5; B Harding 6, C Morkan 6, C Parlon 7; C McMahon 6, S Ryan 7; J Bergin 6, D Currams 7, P Geraghty 5; K Connolly 5, S Dooley 5, B Carroll 9. Subs: C McDonald 6 for Rigney (26), T Geraghty 6 for P Geraghty and S Quirke 6 for Connolly (h-t), G Healion 6 for Harding (53), C Slevin 6 for Bergin (61).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).
The game at a glance
Man of the match
James Dempsey (Offaly) - The Midlanders' goalkeeper at times seemed almost all that stood between slaughter and something approaching tragicomedy with at least half a dozen top-class saves to edge the decision ahead of Eoin Larkin, Colin Fennelly and Brian Carroll.
A stunning, unanswered six-minute burst by Kilkenny of 1-7 that turned what was a single-point difference in the 11th minute to a gaping 11-point chasm after 17.
A gorgeous TJ Reid point in the 11th minute, the Ballyhale man controlling Padraig Walsh's pass on the stick before feinting effortlessly inside his marker and firing a score that would prove the first pebble in an avalanche.
After two epic contests in Munster on successive weekends Sky Sports executives were probably left cursing their luck at this GAA baptism proved about as compelling as watching kids pull the wings off dead flies.
James Owens had a quiet, uneventful evening, doling out just a single card in a game that had ceased to carry any real physical or indeed philosophical edge long before the mid-point.
What they said
Brian Cody (Kilkenny manager): "What I wanted was our players to go out and perform at a serious level and I'm happy that they did that, regardless of the opposition. We know where we're at now, Galway are next, they will be so prepared and ready for us. It's going to be a serious battle."
Brian Whelahan (Offaly manager): "Very disappointing to be honest. We believed that Kilkenny would come out with all guns blazing down here and try to put on a show and ratchet up a big score, so we hurled with an extra man in defence. The plan was to contain the start that Kilkenny were hoping to get off to. Didn't happen."
Kilkenny 13 (6 in first half)
Offaly 5 (4)
Kilkenny 2 (2)
Offaly 7 (3)
Offaly 1 (J Dempsey 44).
Kilkenny now meet Galway in a Leinster semi-final on June 22 while Offaly go into this morning's draw for the first round of All-Ireland qualifiers.