FANS had been warned about an impending ferocious storm, but it turned out to be no more than a squall. And after well walked and well-versed Kilkenny coped with the mild enough early buffeting they simply let rip, writes John Knox.
It was all over by half-time really, the place in the Leinster senior hurling championship final against Galway on July 8 virtually sealed and in the bag. The closing divide was 2-21 to 0-9. Kilkenny, the National League, Leinster and All-Ireland champions, are on the trail of what could end up as a 14th provincial championship win in 15 seasons, and 69th title in all.
Beyond that, who knows? The prospects, however, are inviting, exciting and even intriguing if you are from Kilkenny; perplexing for all the other would be contenders as they ponder a solution to this wondrous Kilkenny hurling puzzle.
“I don’t know, is the reputation getting to be something else to deal with,” Dublin manager, Anthony Daly said as he thought aloud during a quick press briefing in Portlaois on Saturday during which he tried to make sense of it all.
His players had prepared well. They were making progress. They were on the up. Even if they hadn’t placed all their chips on a win, they reckoned they had a big performance in them that would stretch Kilkenny.
The shattered Dubs were even stripped of that consolation.
“We just didn’t perform. I don’t want to take anything from Kilkenny, but our game just fell apart. Our touch was good in training, even in the warm up before the game but once it started we had nothing. I just don’t know.”
The Kilkenny hurling signature of late has been powerful, shocking even - blow away the opposition as early as you can.
To search for an example you only have to go back to the last match, the recent National League final against Cork. That game was over after quarter of an hour.
Another example was the last of the preliminary League matches against Galway in Nowlan Park. A tie the Cats had to win was over at half-time.
And there was even a third example……last year’s All-Ireland final against Tipperary in which Kilkenny set a hot, hot pace from the off that left the opposition almost breathless at times. The only surprise there was that the Cats didn’t win by more.
“That was a good performance, strong in all departments,” was the summary from Noreside manager, Brian Cody, a man of exacting standards. “We played well. The focus was good, the effort was good and the intensity was good.”
Individually and collectively Kilkenny performed, and they were especially strong right through the spine of the team.
J.J. Delaney at full-back was supreme. He tied up the powerful Liam Rushe and anyone who came his way so well the Dubs would probably have had more space if they were in a straight jacket.
Brian Hogan at centre-back was in bulldozing form, sweeping up ball in the air and on the ground and driving the opposition back down the field in front of him. And during the best of the match he was in perfect harmony with his wing men, often taking an in-field pass from Tommy Walsh before getting in a relieving clearance or popping out possession to Richie Doyle, a man who performed above expectations.
New arrivals like Doyle you must leave to fly freely; never burdened by expectations, but with the hope that they will do well. Doyle exceeded hopes, especially in the discipline and timing of tackles, the intelligence of his clearances and in following the flight of play and the ball.
Working through personal challenge
Again, when the battle was hottest, T.J. Reid and Richie Hogan showed to best effect up front in terms of winning ball, stretching the opposition and being generally troublesome. Later Richie Power joined the ranks of those inflicting hurt and pain, as did Eoin Larkin.
And all the while Henry (Shefflin) was working through what was an important personal challenge…..his first inter-county game in nine months. With a mere match and a half – 90 minutes in all – of game time and three weeks of serious training behind him this tie represented a significant psychological challenge for the Shamrocks man.
The eight times All-Ireland medal winner keeps himself well. Physically he was always going to be fine on his return. But in terms of his touch, being on the pace of things, taking the faster, bigger hits this was a challenge.
He did very well. And the more the season stretches out in front of him, the better he can get. Welcome back Henry!
Hopefully that stretch into the season will also bring the return of player of the year, Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice after injury. Flying with a full squadron would be even better!
Dublin opened backed by the wind blowing into the town end. They enjoyed the benefit of a harsh early call against Tommy Walsh, which free taker Paul Ryan turned into a point, before the same Ryan landed a second score on five minutes. That was the best the Dubs were to do all afternoon.
By the 12th minute it was all square at 0-3 each, the winners’ scores coming from T.J. Reid, a quick rise and strike effort from the left, a Henry Shefflin free after a defender climbed on the back of Richie Hogan, before the latter posted an effort following a smart delivery down the left wing by wing-back Richie Doyle.
The next score arrived in the 16th minute. It was a goal. And it was no ordinary goal. It was a class effort, a thing of absolute beauty. Actually, it exemplified Kilkenny’s sheer class, individually and as a cohesive unit.
No room for talk
This tasty performance left no room for talk of Kilkenny’s power or physical hurling. This was classy hurling by classy players! Those who suggest Kilkenny all but bully opponents through their physicality had their arguments rendered redundant here.
Hurling won the day, nothing else!
Anyway, that goal! T.J. Reid began and finished the move that was decorated with green. The Shamrocks man won the ball in a central area near midfield. He charged in an arch towards the right around the first defender. After drawing a second man he popped a pass to Richie Power.
Another defender (or was it two?) was taken out of the equation by a forward charging Power before he in turn popped a hand-pass inside to Reid, whose run has taken him deep inside the 20-metre line. From an angle on the left Reid beat goalie, Gary Maguire, all ends up.
As goals go, this was a great, great effort, in terms of vision, creation, movement, precision, the entire skill content, and finish too.
The score: 1-3 to 0-3.
Dublin, who were hurt in every way by the concession, hit back for the next point from Paul Ryan (free). However, they were hit for five in-a-row during the next six minutes. Points flowed from Shefflin, following a foul on Power; T.J. Reid, with an assist from Richie Hogan; Shefflin (a foul on Hogan) and Power, at the end of a delivery from Paddy Hogan.
On 26 minutes goal No. 2 arrived. It was another beauty. Richie Power put his name on it, shooting low to the net from 10 metres on the left. Eoin Larkin started the move by stealing the ball from Dublin on the left wing before aiming a pass to Colin Fennelly in a central position. The Shamrocks man duly headed for the target. When the cover closed in he released possession to Power.
The sheer pace of movement, plus accuracy of passing and shooting, was stunning.
The score: 2-7 to 0-4.
No one winning
Dublin had no one who was winning his corner. They were under pressure all over the place. They were sinking. By the 28th minute they had already made two substitutions in attack, one the replacement of the injured Conal Keaney.
They even lost ground in the run up to half-time, when the contest was over.
The score: 2-10 to 0-6.
The records will show the second half scoring half exchanges broke down 0-11 against 0-9 for the winners. It could have been worse. Dublin goalie Gary Maguire brought off top class saves from Eoin Larkin (57th minute) and Henry Shefflin (67th minute).
Although the day was grey and wet, the hurling thunder and lightning never materialised in Portlaois. Kilkenny’s sheer class muffled the opposition……and detractors too!
Kilkenny – David Herity, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Richie Doyle, Cillian Buckley, Paddy Hogan, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Eoin Larkin (capt), Colin Fennelly, Richie Power, Richie Hogan. Subs – Noel Hickey for Delaney (inj) 47th min; Aidan Fogarty for Buckley 53rd min; Matthew Ruth for Fennelly 56th min; Kieran Joyce for T. Walsh 61st min; John Tennyson for B. Hogan 68th min.
Dublin – Gary Maguire, Niall Corcoran, Peter Kelly, Tomas Brady, Stephen Hiney, Joseph Boland, Michael Carton, John McCaffrey (capt), Shane Durkin, Conor McCormack, Danny Sutcliffe, Conal Keaney, Paul Ryan, Liam Rushe, Ryan O’Dwyer. Subs – David Treacy for Keaney (inj) 14th min; Rory Trainor for N. Corcoran 28th min; Alan McCrabbe for McCormack 34th min; Ross O’Carroll for Durkin ht; David O’Callaghan for P. Ryan 49th min.
Referee – Barry Kelly (Westmeath).
Attendance – 12,446.