Supreme Cats boosted by Power injury relief
IT says something about the ease of the All-Ireland champions' opening league victory that the biggest cheer raised in Kilkenny yesterday was for the news of Dublin's big victory over Tipperary.
That, and a worrying neck injury to top scorer Richie Power -- taken away by ambulance at half-time -- were the main talking points around Nowlan Park after the defending league champions finally got out of the blocks following hurling's recent attempts to make it into the Winter Olympics.
By their own vaunted standards the Cats, featuring nine of their All-Ireland starters, looked a little ring-rusty at times, hitting eight of 13 wides in the second half. But once centre-forward Michael Rice split the defence after 42 minutes and laid it off for Aidan Fogarty to goal, it was game over.
The first questions asked of manager Brian Cody afterwards were, understandably, about Power, who had scored his 0-8 before being stretchered off in what looked like a Brian O'Driscoll-esque injury just before the break, when he got clipped going up for a ball in a crowd and didn't get up afterwards.
Kilkenny physio Robbie Lodge moved with commendable speed to get across the pitch to the Carrickshock star and immediately restrict any head movement. A neck brace and ambulance were summoned and Kilkenny were awaiting an update last night, although they didn't seem to be too pessimistic. "Richie was complaining of stiffness in his neck and we couldn't take any chance so he's gone to hospital for X-rays," Cody said afterwards and, later last night, Power was discharged from hospital with no serious injury.
Otherwise there was little else of note to report, as Offaly manager Joe Dooley candidly conceded: "Kilkenny were within their comfort zone."
In fairness Offaly's defence, particularly their full-back line led brilliantly by David Kenny, did well to contain them to just the one goal. When Kilkenny debutant Eoin McGrath got through with the net at his mercy after 30 minutes, James Rigney did brilliantly to flick the ball away to safety and Kenny also got a vital block on Michael Grace early in the second half.
Faithful fans will also have been cheered to see goalkeeper Brian Mullins confirm his continuing participation this season with a very solid outing on his return, particularly under the dropping ball. Dooley also had every right to be very happy with defenders like Kenny, Paul Cleary, Michael Verney and Derek Morkan.
But after two consecutive losses and still without the likes of Brendan Murphy, Offaly clearly have serious problems up front which badly need to be addressed before they face Dublin next. Eight of yesterday's 12 scores came from placed balls from Dooley's son Shane and not one of their forwards got the better of his man.
It should be noted though that their attack was facing a giant black and amber brick wall in the shape of Tommy Walsh, Jackie Tyrell and JJ Delaney who, as Dooley noted, "are as good a half-back line as ever played hurling".
But even as the marking loosened in the dying minutes and open chances fell Offaly's way, they missed some sitters, with Odhran Kealey particularly guilty in front of an open goal. "At the start of the league we knew that (with) two away games against Cork and Kilkenny we were going to be under pressure," Dooley admitted. "Things maybe turned out the way we expected but it's the next four games that are the critical ones."
For Kilkenny it was really just business as usual. Despite their rustiness, the 2009 Hurler of the Year Walsh showed a couple of deft touches that were worth the entrance fee alone while Brian Hogan and Tyrell were also outstanding.
Up front, Rice prised open the defence repetitively with his impressive running and scored three crackers from play. Michael Grace also did well with one fantastic point.
And as if to depress their opponents further John Mulhall really impressed when he came off the bench for Power and lined out in the half-forward line. But even at this early stage Brian Cody won't be letting the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions rest on their laurels.
When it was put to him that his side always had a gear in reserve he replied: "I didn't have that feeling myself. We pulled away a little bit at the end but we didn't win a huge amount of ball in the forwards right through the game."
Scorers -- Kilkenny: R Power 0-8 (0-6f, 1'65), A Fogarty 1-1, M Rice 0-3, R Hogan 0-2 (0-2f), PJ Delaney, M Grace, J Mulhall 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 0-9 (0-7f, 1'65), R Hannify, G Healion, D Hayden 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- PJ Ryan; C Hickey, B Hogan, J Dalton; T Walsh, J Tyrrell, JJ Delaney; W O'Dwyer, PJ Delaney; R Hogan, M Rice, A Fogarty; M Grace, R Power, E McGrath. Subs: J Mulhall for Power (38), P Hogan for McGrath (46), P Hartley for Hogan (66).
Offaly -- B Mullins; P Cleary, D Kenny, M Verney; D Horan, E Murphy, D Morkan; J Rigney, R Hannify; C Mahon, G Healion, B Carroll; S Dooley, D Molloy, C Parlon. Subs: J Bergin for Murphy (h-t), O Kealey for Carroll (49), D Franks for Cleary (51), J Brady for Molloy (56), D Hayden for Parlon (71).
Ref -- J Ryan (Tipperary).