Late charge lands Leinster title

CANT CATCH ME! Goal-scorer Tadhg ODwyer (Kilkenny) leaves Dublin defenders Paddy Smyth and Conor Ryan trailing in his wake during the Leinster minor hurling final in Croke Park. Right: Captain Daniel OConnor lifts the silverware after the Cats earned their 55th provincial title at this level. Photo: Eoin Hennessy
It wasn’t quite highway robbery, but some slight of hand was incorporated as Kilkenny nicked the Leinster minor hurling silverware right at the death.

It wasn’t quite highway robbery, but some slight of hand was incorporated as Kilkenny nicked the Leinster minor hurling silverware right at the death.

Chasing the game in the closing stages, the champions conjured up a strong late rally to pick Dublin’s pockets and land the provincial spoils for the 55th time.

Going into the closing stages things looked anything but rosy for the Cats, who trailed a stubborn Dublin by two points (1-15 to 1-13).

However, Cats don’t have nine lives for nothing!

Just when it looked like Dublin might hold on, they were reeled in. Richie Leahy led the way, splitting the posts with a free he had won, before Daniel O’Connor played a captain’s part, winning Edmund Delaney’s line ball before cutting back inside the shoot a 59th minute leveller.

At that stage it seemed Kilkenny had done enough to earn a draw - but they wanted more. They went close with another O’Connor strike (this one whistled wide of the far right post) but wouldn’t be denied their moment of glory.

Started by some good work in midfield by Leahy, play was worked on by Joe Connolly to sub Conor Hennessy, who had the confidence to go for a point from the right wing. His efforts were rewarded - Kilkenny were back in front.

Spurred on by that score (and the roars of the crowd) Kilkenny went on the attack again. Rather than wind the clock down, Delaney raced after Cathal McGrath’s booming clearance and made his work count, confirming Kilkenny’s victory with a sweet, late point.

That game was a little closer than he would have liked, but there was no denying manager Pat Hoban was pleased with how his side refused to wilt.

“The game ebbed and flowed,” he said. “I felt we started well but left Dublin in it. They were really well set up; their structure was good and we found it hard to break them down, but the lads showed great character. They never gave up.”

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Although Dublin drew first blood, Matthew Oliver opening their account with a quick free, the Cats seemed to find top gear much faster.

Level through a like score from Andrew Gaffney, they showed their menace when slicing Dublin wide open for the score of the half after just six minutes. Richie Leahy’s clever ball was seized upon by Joey Cuddihy, who released a diagonal hand-pass over his right shoulder.

Dublin saw the ball coming, but it was too late to do anything about it. Tadhg O’Dwyer raced on to the delivery, skipping past Ciaran Brady before coolly drilling the sliotar past Eoin Skelly.

Kilkenny did well to build on that goal, pushing four points clear through Joe Connolly, but Dublin proved hard to shake off. Led by the deadly accurate Oliver - he tacked on five frees - they were level by the 22nd minute, the Oliver haul cancelling out fine efforts from Andrew Gaffney (free) and Joey Cuddihy.

Kilkenny’s failure to deal with Dublin in the middle third hurt them, as they continued to concede frees. Another, this one awarded in front of goal, gave Oliver the chance to push Dublin into the lead by the 24th minute (0-8 to 1-4).

Sensing that urgency was needed, Kilkenny raised their game again. John Donnelly led the charge, stepping inside Ciaran Brady’s challenge to pick off a point. He added another a few minutes later, following on from another Gaffney free to leave the Cats two clear.

They held that advantage until the break, but only just. Panic spread when Donal Burke scorched past his marker on the left and zoomed towards goal but he rushed his close range injury-time shot, allowing the Cats to help the ball to safety (1-7 to 0-8).

The Dubs were back on the attack from the restart, making no mistake with their finishing this time. Sub Alex Considine had a dream introduction as, within seconds, he latched on to a looping crossfield ball and rattled the Canal End goal.

Once more the challenge was laid at Kilkenny’s feet. Again, they didn’t shrink away from it.

Led by Gaffney (0-2) they quickly took the sting out of Considine’s goal, then pushed further ahead when Richie Leahy profited from some good work by Daniel O’Connor.

However, Dublin weren’t about to fold too easily. They were level again with little over 20 minutes to play, then popped over three more points (Oliver nabbed a brace as they hit five in a row in total) to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Refused to Quit

Still, Kilkenny refused to quit. With free-taker Gaffney now replaced Richie Leahy took over the dead ball duties, ending an 11-minute barren spell with a solid 47th minute score. Sub Edmund Delaney chipped in with another point - the Cats could have had more to celebrate, as O’Connor pulled on a dropping Leahy free, but his shot flashed wide of the far post - before Leahy levelled matters with nine minutes left to play.

Kilkenny couldn’t relax, as Dublin came with another big effort. Once more Matthew Oliver was involved, converting a 65, before Considine blasted over a point to double the Dubs’ lead.

Now the question was if Kilkenny could fight their way back again. The answer, which unfolded over several minutes, was a resounding yes!

It was that never-say-die spirit which really pleased their manager after the final whistle.

“When you go two points down late on you’re left thinking things are getting a bit ropey, but you’d always have hope,” said Hoban. “After Richie Leahy’s free there was just a point in the game. You’d always believe that you’ll get another chance; it’s just about whether you take it or not. But you will get it.

“That group of players have really shown what they’re made of in the championship,” he added. “They dug out the game against Wexford; we were dead and buried but dug out a point to send it to extra-time, before winning by a point.

“We have shown great character, but we’ll have to pick things up if we are to go any further.”

SCORERS: Kilkenny - Andrew Gaffney (0-5, frees); Richie Leahy (0-4, 0-2 frees); Tadhg O’Dwyer (1-0); John Donnelly, Edmund Delaney (0-2 each); Joe Connolly, Daniel O’Connor, Joey Cuddihy, Conor Hennessy (0-1 each). Dublin - Matthew Oliver (0-10, 0-9 frees, 0-1 65); Alex Considine (1-1); Eoghan Conroy (0-2); Fergal Whitely, Donal Burke (0-1 each).

Kilkenny - Shane Murphy (Glenmore), Michael Cody (Dunnamaggin), Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan), Cathal McGrath (John Lockes), Darren Mullen (Shamrocks), Darragh Joyce (Rower-Inistioge), Conor Doheny (Dicksboro), Richie Leahy (Rower-Inistioge), Joe Connolly (Clara), Andrew Gaffney (Dicksboro), John Donnelly (Thomastown), Daniel O’Connor (O’Loughlin Gaels), Tadhg O’Dwyer (James Stephens), Joey Cuddihy (Shamrocks), Niall Walsh (Windgap).

Dublin - Eoin Skelly, Cian Hendricken, Ciaran Brady, Conor Ryan, Eoin Foley, Paddy Smyth, Darragh Butler, Matthew Oliver, Carl Sammon, Fergal Whitley, Mark Maguire, Eoghan Conroy, Eoghan Dunne, Donal Burke, Conor Burke.

Referee - Michael Murtagh (Westmeath).