Aylward on double as Cats outclass Laois
Not winning a Leinster senior, U-21 or minor title in any given year may not lead to a summoning of the Kilkenny hurling clans in emergency session, but nonetheless it's not a blank they ever like to see on the Roll of Honour.
Perhaps conscious of that, Kilkenny's U-21s set about making a major imprint on the 2012 season early in yesterday's provincial final at O'Moore Park. So early, in fact, that they were ahead after 30 seconds from a free on the half-way line by Kevin Kelly, a score which opened the floodgates.
By the fourth minute, they were 1-4 to 0-0 ahead, the goal coming from Ger Aylward off a pass by giant corner-forward Walter Walsh. Their second point underlined the vast gulf between the teams, not just in technique but also in presence and awareness.
Kelly could have shot for a point when lining up a free from an acute angle but spotted centre-forward Padraig Walsh lurking ominously with no opponent within 20 metres of him. The pass was good and so was Walsh's finish.
It was the ultimate culture shock for Laois as they came face-to-face with the stark reality that they were up against a totally different level of opposition to what they encountered against Dublin and Carlow.
Kilkenny's speed left Laois so mesmerised that it must have looked as if they were facing 25 opponents. Laois dropped an extra man back in defence but it made no appreciable difference in terms of keeping the score down.
However, it did create a problem for them at the other end as many of their under-pressure deliveries to an outgunned attack were easily picked up by Kilkenny's extra defender.
Stephen Maher (free) and Neil Foyle struck Laois points in the seventh and 10th minutes but as Kilkenny's awesome power intensified their strike rate increased dramatically. John Power whipped in their second goal in the 11th minute and by the time he struck again in the 22nd minute, Kilkenny had also added six points. By half-time they led 3-14 to 0-6.
Laois were playing for pride, and it was a challenge they took on with commendable courage, outscoring Kilkenny by 1-4 to 0-2 in the opening 10 minutes of the half. The goal came from a brilliantly struck free by full-forward Neil Foyle and the brief revival drew loud approval from the large Laois crowd at the county's first Leinster final appearance since 1990.
However, once Kilkenny settled back into their powerful routine, they quickly set about racking up the scores. Aylward hit his second goal in the 54th minute and Kilkenny saw out the one-sided contest with four late points. A miserable evening for Laois was compounded four minutes from the end when corner-back Packie Flynn was sent off for a second yellow card.
So Kilkenny are back as Leinster champions for the first time since 2009, while Laois' wait for a second title continues for a 29th year.
Foyle and Darren King did their best to make things happen in the Laois attack while goalkeeper Eoin Fleming made some excellent saves but elsewhere they were over-run by an ultra-impressive Kilkenny side which included senior stars Richie Doyle and Cillian Buckley.
Doyle imposed himself early on but was rarely tested once Kilkenny raced up through the gears, while Buckley was denied two goals by brilliant saves.
Aylward top-scored on 2-5 while the rest of the attack also enjoyed themselves immensely.
It augurs well for Kilkenny senior hurling over the next few years as several this squad look well capable of stepping up a level. They would have expected stiffer opposition in the Leinster final but Laois never quite settled into the game after making such a dismal start.
They needed an early burst of enterprise but instead found themselves so far behind at the end of the first quarter that there was never the remotest chance of a revival.
There was nothing wrong with their attitude or application but with Kilkenny so far advanced in the basics, Laois were in new territory. Unfortunately for them, there was no escape route against a squad which will now be favourites for the All-Ireland title.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: G Aylward 2-5, J Power 2-1, K Kelly (5f), P Walsh 0-6 each, C Buckley, W Walsh 0-2 each, G Brennan, M Gaffney 0-1 each. Laois: S Maher 0-7 (5f), N Foyle 1-1 (1-0f), D King 0-4, W Dunphy 0-1.
Kilkenny D Walsh: J Corcoran, W Phelan, B Kennedy; L Harney, R Doyle, J Lyng; G Brennan, O Walsh; K Kelly, P Walsh, C Buckley; W Walsh, J Power, G Aylward. Subs: M Gaffney for Harney (43), O McGrath for O Walsh (43), C Kenny for Buckley (49), M Brennan for W Walsh (58), I Duggan for Corcoran (59).
Laois -- E Fleming; P Flynn, G Burke, A Phelan; N Unwin, B Duggan, J Fitzpatrick; D Freeman, B Dunne; W Dunphy, P Lawlor, S Maher; B Reddin, N Foyle, D King. Subs: J Ryan for Lawlor (27), C Dwyer for Phelan (h-t), C McEvoy for Unwin (h-t), R King for Reddin (45), J Finane for Fitzpatrick (51).
Ref -- G McGrath (Dublin)