AND so now, a little bit earlier than many thought might be the case, we have to ask the inevitable question – is the party over?
After a decade of unprecedented success during which the county won a second All-Ireland three in-a-row, completed its own first ever four in-a-row, got a shot at the never achieved five in-a-row and won six National Leagues to boot the dark clouds of uncertainty swept in over Croke Park on Sunday.
While the brilliance of Dublin must be recognised and paid due homage after a thrilling and comprehensive first National League final success since 1938/39, the defeat, and the shocking manner of it, left Kilkenny facing an almighty effort to drag the piece back together if they are to be a force in the upcoming championship.
Whereas before this game fans, commentators and what have you would have been talking about Kilkenny as possible All-Ireland contenders with a Leinster championship success almost taken for granted, now all estimates will have to be revised downwards.
“The championship is never easy, but now it is a massive challenge for us all, management as well as players,” admitted Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody.
Dublin manager Anthony Daly has been shaping, improving, shaping, improving his hungry troops during the past few years. On Sunday it all came right.
Opposition in trouble
The Dubs caught hold of this game from around the 15th minute when that William Tell like striker, Paul Ryan flashed over the lead point (0-5 to 1-1) from a free following a foul on Liam Rushe. They never looked back.
By half-time the free and fast moving, hard working Dubs - by running directly at Kilkenny and dragging them all over the place at pace - had pieced together a well deserved 0-11 to 1-2 lead. They should have been a goal better off, a big score being disallowed in the 32nd minute for no apparent reason.
The opposition was in trouble, serious trouble, being a man down and it could have been two following a nasty incident just before the rest. To be honest, the discipline in the Kilkenny ranks at times looked less than it should have been.
While the losers won the battle for the opening score of the new half that was to be about the height of their achievement during this period. As the game wore on the Dubs became bolder, empowered by the sweet air of success that expanded their lungs, by the uplifting chorus from Hill 16 that has never sung with such gusto for Dublin hurling.
And in the end the victors skated to the winning line, doing a Kilkenny on Kilkenny by flashing over five points without reply. The big finish gift wrapped the day for one side, piled on the agony for the other.
“Our whole message was not to be afraid to go for it,” was the how it was done story from Mr Daly. “This success was a long time coming. Now we must try and build on it in the championship.”
Dublin should not be afraid. They have hurlers, ball players, athletes, strong men like they haven’t had in decades.
Men while Shane Durkin, he was mighty, Joseph Boland, Peter Kelly, Conal Keaney, Tomas Brady, John McCaffrey, Ryan O’Dwyer and Paul Ryan turned a League campaign of promise into a pure gold performance on the big day. They can all be better for the experience.
From a Kilkenny point of view the story was as shocking as the score would suggest. That great warrior, Noel Hickey stood proud and defiant, even if the attempt seemed to be to drag and run him all over the place. Paddy Hogan didn’t give an inch. Brian Hogan was good too.
Course for victory set
The Dubs probably won the remaining dozen individual battlers, or should that be 11? Eoin Larkin was red carded in the 25th minute for an uncharacteristic indiscretion after being awarded a free. He was well in the game up until then.
The score was 0-10 to 1-1 at the time, and the winners were flying. The course for victory was already set, have no doubt about that.
The winners were backed by the wind and attacked the Canal End from the off. Early on Ryan O’Dwyer flashed over a very good point from 30 metres on the right before Paul Ryan converted a free from 65 metres.
While they conceded twice, it was obvious that Kilkenny were more with it, more positive than they had been in the earlier Walsh Cup and League clashes against the same opposition. They pulled back a point through T.J. Reid, and in the 10th minute they hit the front in dramatic fashion.
Reid arrowed a 65 towards the target. The ball appeared to be going wide on the left edge of the square, but Richie Hogan did very well to keep the ball in play before slipping it, via a hand-pass, across the face of goal. A swipe of Eddie Brennan’s caman and the net danced (1-1 to 0-2).
For two minutes Kilkenny held the lead before David O’Callaghan took a pass from Alan McCrabbe before cutting the difference. Paul Ryan with a terrific point – he angled a high shot from the right and let the wind carry the ball between the uprights – levelled in the 14th minute.
Within 60 seconds the same Ryan won the lead for the Dubs, and they never looked back. The advantage was extended in deadly fashion when Durkin and McCrabbe worked well to create a score for Ryan. The Dubs were flying, their support play and use of the hand-pass to work the ball from difficult areas and to create space were exquisite.
Daire Plunkett, Ryan and Conal Keaney all piled up scores – eight without reply – before the sending-off. The troubled Cats didn’t have their third score until the 31st minute, and that was from midfielder Michael Rice.
With the divide at 0-11 to 1-2 at half-time the stats didn’t make for good reading for Kilkenny. Brennan’s goal was the lone score from play from the attack. It remained so to the finish.
For a while early in the second half the losers tried to take the game to the opposition, but the extra defender killed them. The next 19 minutes brought three scores. The killer was that the Dubs posted a like amount.
It wasn’t match saving from as far as Kilkenny were concerned (0-14 to 1-5). The game was well up.
Subsequently the Dubs put on a hurling show; a wonderful cross field pass by Conal Keaney to John McCaffrey, right to left, for a 69th score and a two minute hat-trick of points in the closing straight decorated a history making effort.
Scorers: Dublin – Paul Ryan (0-9, five frees); Conal Keaney (0-3); Ryan O’Dwyer, Maurice O’Brien (0-2 each); Daire Plunkett, David O’Callaghan, Conor McCormack, John McCaffrey, David Treacy, Simon Lambert (0-1 each). Kilkenny – T.J. Reid (0-5, frees); Eddie Brennan (1-0); Michael Rice (0-1); Paddy Hogan (0-1, free).
Kilkenny – David Herity, John Dalton, Brian Hogan, Noel Hickey, Paddy Hogan, Jackie Tyrrell, J.J. Delaney, T.J. Reid, Michael Rice, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Matthew Ruth, Eoin Larkin, Colin Fennelly, Eddie Brennan, Richie Hogan. Subs – Michael Kavanagh for Delaney (inj) 55th min; John Mulhall for Fennelly 57th min; Paul Murphy for Ruth 63rd min.
Dublin – Gary Maguire, Niall Corcoran, Tomas Brady, Peter Kelly, John McCaffrey, Joseph Boland, Shane Durkin, Alan McCrabbe, Liam Rushe, Conal Keaney, Ryan O’Dwyer, Conor McCormack, Daire Plunkett, David O’Callaghan, Paul Ryan. Subs - Maurice O’Brien for Boland (inj) 44th min; Declan O’Dwyer for Plunkett 54th min; David Treacy for McCrabbe 62nd min; Simon Lambert for Rushe 65th min; Shane Ryan for O’Callaghan 72nd min.
Referee – Michael Wadding (Waterford).
Attendance - 42,030.