'It is a brilliant challenge to be facing' - Brian Cody relishing chance to take on Galway despite lacklustre win over Offaly
Leinster SHC Round Robin: Kilkenny 2-19 Offaly 1-13
If ever there was a case of shadow-boxing from Kilkenny, this was it.
With the mouth-watering trip to Pearse Stadium to come next Sunday, it's no surprise that Brian Cody's league winners never really caught fire with one eye on the clash of champions against reigning Leinster and All-Ireland kingpins Galway.
Walter Walsh - a central cog in their attack - was nursing a leg injury and not risked along with James Maher, the returning Conor Fogarty was quickly taken off in the second half with a dead leg; likewise for Lester Ryan, while brilliant newcomer Luke Scanlon was removed before the last quarter.
Eyes are clearly on bigger prizes but there was still a job to be done and when Joe Bergin's second-half goal threatened a Faithful revival and the gap was cut to three points in the 62nd minute, the Cats were quick to show their claws.
Liam Blanchfield had been a thorn in Offaly's side throughout and finally got the goal his efforts deserved when the impressive John Donnelly served it on a plate for him and they poured cold water on an Offaly upset.
It's a case of job done for Kilkenny after two matches with four points on the board but Cody knows bigger tests await in their pursuit of provincial glory, starting with their trip to Galway.
"It is a brilliant challenge to be facing in Salthill. I suppose they have the advantage of not playing today. That is not an excuse. It is going to be a real test. It will help us find out where we are at," the 11-time All-Ireland-winning manager said afterwards.
Were it not for their wastefulness in front of the posts with a mammoth 21 wides, they could have been out of sight with Cody deeming it "an indication of the amount of possession we had" as Offaly lived off scraps.
Playing with the aid of a decent breeze in the opening half, Kevin Martin's side didn't make it count and for the second week in a row, they lacked a cutting edge in attack - limited to just 14 scores.
"We are disappointed, we thought we'd push them a little closer but the first half wasn't up to standard," Martin said. "I just thought our work-rate wasn't really there in our forwards in the first half but in fairness, they really worked in the second half.
"The guys were trying but we need the breaks going for us because we're playing against good teams and everything has to be going right for us. In fairness, they made Kilkenny work for it."
It was nip and tuck in the early exchanges of a lifeless encounter but four points in a row from Scanlon, Eoin Murphy (long-range free), Donnelly and TJ Reid (free) helped Kilkenny to a 0-5 to 0-3 lead midway through the opening half.
Reid was generally quiet but the Ballyhale Shamrocks maestro drifted into space in the 24th minute before collecting a pinpoint Donnelly pass and firing low past Offaly 'keeper Eoghan Cahill as they pushed on to lead by six at the break, 1-10 to 0-7.
Bergin was the only one making any inroads into the Kilkenny defence and kept Offaly ticking over upon the resumption but when sub Colin Fennelly, who impressed again off the bench, put them nine ahead on 52 minutes, the game looked all but over.
However, much like their league quarter-final earlier this year, the Faithful hung onto their coattails and Shane Dooley's brilliant reverse overhead handpass put Bergin through on goal and he flicked to the net. A Dooley free and a point from Oisín Kelly left just a goal in it as the Nowlan Park crowd finally awoke from their slumber but Offaly would fail to add to their tally as Kilkenny shut the door.
Donnelly pointed before becoming the creator for Blanchfield to bury to the Offaly net and when Fennelly and Martin Keoghan added further scores, it was all she wrote.
Having failed to scale the heights of their league final win in their provincial campaign thus far, Cody will hope for a big showing next weekend but he must continue to do without former Hurler of the Year Richie Hogan, who has no return date in sight.
"He's getting closer, he is but again it's a question of wait and see. It would be great to think that he will be able to get back in full swing but it's a case of wait and see again."
On the other end of the spectrum, it looks like Offaly's Leinster survival will come down to a do-or-die clash with Dublin in Parnell Park in two weeks' time but before that, Martin demands a performance against Wexford.
"It's a crucial game and it's one we are targeting. We really have to get a performance and if we do, the result will look after itself."
SCORERS - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 1-5 (4f), L Blanchfield 1-2, L Scanlon 0-4, M Keoghan, C Fennelly, J Donnelly 0-2 each, E Murphy (f) and R Leahy 0-1 each. Offaly: J Bergin 1-3, S Dooley 0-5 (4f), S Kinsella 0-2, C Egan, P Camon and O Kelly 0-1 each.
KILKENNY - E Murphy 7; J Holden 7, P Walsh 7, P Deegan 7; C Delaney 6, C Buckley 6, P Murphy 6; C Fogarty 7, L Ryan 6; M Keoghan 7, TJ Reid 7, R Leahy 6; J Donnelly 8, L Blanchfield 8, L Scanlon 8. Subs: C Fennelly 7 for Fogarty (41), C Browne 6 for Ryan (52), G Aylward 6 for Scanlon (54), C O'Shea for Leahy (70).
OFFALY - E Cahill 7; T Spain 5, D Shortt 6, B Conneely 6; D Egan 6, P Camon 7, D O'Toole 6; D King 6, S Kinsella 7; O Kelly 6, C Egan 6, P Murphy 5; D Currams 5, J Bergin 8, S Dooley 6. Subs: C Mahon 6 for Murphy (30), P Delaney 7 for Spain and R Hughes 6 for Currams (both h-t), S Ryan 6 for C Egan (58), T Geraghty for Kinsella (68).
REF - J Owens ((Wexford)