Reid stands tall as Cats survive scare
Allianz HL quarter-final: Kilkenny 0-24 Offaly 1-19
Having been tipped by many as relegation candidates before the league commenced, Kilkenny are now in the last four as Brian Cody's rebuilding job continued with a hard-fought win over a gallant Offaly side in O'Connor Park yesterday.
Working from a provisional panel of nearly 50 players throughout the winter, Cody has blooded fresh faces in recent months as the 11-time All-Ireland-winning manager attempts to consign a dismal 2017 to the darkest corner.
However, when the need was greatest against a no-nonsense Offaly side, it was the familiar heads of TJ Reid (0-12) and Walter Walsh (0-4) who pulled them over the line with late points when a shock looked on the cards against the 10/1 Faithful underdogs.
Opening-round defeats to Cork and Clare are distant memories for Cody but they didn't have things their own way against their Leinster rivals.
"We are in the league semi-final now, which is progress because after the first two games, we weren't being tipped at all to come this far," he said.
"It has been good application by the players and a good response. It was really, really a fierce battle and if the attitude was less than what it was, we wouldn't have won the game. Offaly are going to be a serious threat to anyone in the championship."
Cody's reconstruction of a hurling dynasty has been one storyline thus far this year but Offaly's resurgence under Kevin Martin has been another and it continued in fine style as they led at half-time and were level as second-half injury-time approached.
Twelve months ago they fell to the same opposition at this stage by a demoralising 6-20 to 0-14 so the progress is obvious to see. Most of the same personnel are in tow but this is a meaner, fitter and better organised Faithful side.
They gave as good as they got with the likes of Shane Dooley and goal scorer Conor Mahon leading the attack while the second-half fade-outs which have dogged their efforts in recent seasons look to have been arrested.
"They're starting to get there and we're heading in the right direction," Martin said. "They showed a bit of character which is great to see back in them, it's all very promising but we are not going to jump ahead of ourselves.
"We're just trying to get them to release themselves so they are well able to hurl because they have been in a box this past three years, and they have been afraid to express themselves and now they are just starting to do it, and it's great to see it."
It was tit for tat in the opening exchanges but Offaly had goalkeeper Eoghan Cahill to thank after he pulled off a fine save from a kicked Ger Aylward effort inside two minutes as the sides traded early points with referee Paud O'Dwyer very harsh on the home side with their first free only coming in the 18th minute to a huge ovation.
The visitors went three ahead with Reid deadly accurate from placed balls despite facing a stiff breeze but the Faithful struck back through a brace of Dooley placed balls and a fine over-the-shoulder effort from Joe Bergin to leave it 0-7 apiece after 24 minutes.
The crucial score of the half came in the 33rd minute when Mahon used every bit of his 6ft 4in frame to bundle the ball over the line and send his side into the break with a three-point advantage, 1-10 to 0-10, as they faced the elements in the closing half.
Within seven minutes of the resumption, the Cats were level with Liam Blanchfield (two) and Reid firing over fine efforts and when impressive substitute John Donnelly and Reid helped Kilkenny into a three-point lead (0-18 to 1-12) midway through the half, it looked like it may turn into one-way traffic.
Buoyed by a vocal home support, Offaly deserve huge credit for not wilting, however, and they battled right to the finish. When Dooley, who sent over three glorious second-half points from play and was sharp throughout, pointed a free in the 70th minute, Martin's men looked set to grab a famous win, or at least force extra-time but it wasn't to be.
The resulting puck-out was arrowed down on top of Reid, who caught it beautifully and fired over, before Walsh hit his fourth from play as two of their most experienced players stood tall when the need was greatest.
Victory secures a semi-final berth against the winners of Galway and Wexford with Cody confirming that Richie Hogan will play no part in that game as he continues to recover from a serious back injury, although goalkeeper Eoin Murphy may return having picked up a whiplash injury in their defeat of Waterford.
SCORERS - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-12 (9f); W Walsh 0-4; L Blanchfield 0-3; J Maher, J Donnelly 0-2 each; G Aylward 0-1. Offaly: S Dooley 0-8 (5f); C Mahon 1-2; J Bergin, C Egan, S Kinsella 0-2 each; C Kiely, D Currams, D King 0-1 each.
KILKENNY - D Brennan 6; J Holden 7, P Walsh 7, P Deegan 6; C Delaney 6, C Buckley 7, C Browne 6; R Leahy 6, O Walsh 6; L Blanchfield 7, TJ Reid 8, J Maher 6; G Aylward 6, W Walsh 8, R Reid 5. Subs: J Donnelly 7 for O Walsh and L Scanlon 6 for Aylward (both 41), L Ryan 6 for Leahy (61), E Morrissey 6 for Browne (64).
OFFALY - E Cahill 7; T Spain 7, S Gardiner 6, B Conneely 8; D O'Toole 7, D Shortt 6, P Camon 7; S Kinsella 6, D King 7; C Mahon 8, C Kiely 6, C Egan 7; S Dooley 8, J Bergin 7, D Currams 6. Subs: P Rigney 6 for Gardiner inj (47), O Kelly 6 for Kiely and D Egan 6 for Kinsella (both 58), T Geraghty for C Egan (68), S Ryan for Rigney (blood 73).
REF - P O'Dwyer (Carlow)