Mission No. 3 accomplished, and in some style too! Leinster has become the Cats domain once again.
The reclaiming of the Leinster senior hurling championship wasn’t exactly easy, but Kilkenny have experienced tougher battles against defending champions, Dublin, who huffed and puffed but never looked like blowing down the opposition.
From a long way out in this Leinster senior hurling final in Croke Park on Sunday the Bob O’Keeffe Cup looked destined to change hands. It duly did as Kilkenny claimed their 69th title, and first since 2011.
The latest victory completed a fine hat trick of wins in the National League, Walsh Cup and Leinster championship for the nicely moving Noresiders, who have now booked a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals on August 10.
“It was our intention from the beginning of the year to try and win the Leinster championship,” pleased manager, Brian Cody insisted afterwards. “All our energies will now go into preparing for the All-Ireland semi-final. That is the next matter on the agenda.”
The semi-final opponents are as yet unknown, but Kilkenny don’t mind who they face, Mr Cody insisted.
“At this level there are no easy options,” he assured. “You face who you face, and you prepare as best you can for what is a do-or-die match.”
Cody’s men were in championship action for the third successive week. They looked lively and nicely tuned. Dublin, on the other hand, had been waiting for this match for weeks. They looked pedestrian. Their first touch rated from poor to awful.
They weren’t at all the Dubs who chased Kilkenny through two matches last season before dumping them out of the Leinster championship, or who brushed the visitors aside in Parnell Park in the League earlier in the season.
Kilkenny regained the lead through T.J. Reid in the 10th minute following a foul on Conor Fogarty after the teams shared equally in four points earlier. The winners led all the way home from there. Dublin never got close enough for the Cats to feel the heat of their breath on the back of their necks.
The losers did dominate and look dangerous at times. There was a 12 minutes period during the second half when Kilkenny failed to score and the opposition drove forward and had a serious enough threat about them.
However, the Dubs only gain during this period of dominance was a point from Paul Ryan, with an assist by David O’Callaghan. That was their lone score during the closing 28 minutes, which was awful returns for a huge amount of effort.
Twice during that period they went close to breaching the Kilkenny defence. In the 49th minute John McCaffrey threatened from the edge of the square, but defender Joey Holden and goalie David Herity threw themselves at the sliotar to avert the danger.
Four minutes later the hugely impressive Herity did even better, this time saving a close range effort by Colm Cronin at the Canal End after a reverse pass by Paul Ryan unhinged the defence. That was a big, big moment in the match.
It was a big, big moment for Herity too, because added two a pair of earlier fine saves it left him close to the man of the match award, with the strong hurling Richie Hogan and the hard chasing Eoin Larkin among the other main contenders.
Anyway, the battle for the No. 1 shirt is now white hot, exactly as Cody and his selectors would want it.
Four minutes after Herity’s big stop Kilkenny got the vital point that helped them over the hump. It was typical; typical of their attitude and approach. The mighty Eoin Larkin and Conor Fogarty worked their socks off to steal a ball from Cronin on the Dublin ‘50’.
The ball was delivered forward quickly. Sub Henry Shefflin got a most delicate touch to it and nearly turned it into the net. Goalie Alan Nolan brought off a save, at the expense of a 65, which was pointed by the crisp striking T.J. Reid.
That score from the Shamrocks man shook Kilkenny out of the rut (0-18 to 1-9). They took off again. During the closing 12 minutes they blasted over six points, three by Shefflin, one by another sub Aidan Fogarty while Reid landed a brace.
It was an emphatic finish to a strong performance from a Kilkenny team - no, squad - that is edging forward nicely in the championship.
Examine the figures! Kilkenny conceded 10 scores, including four frees and a penalty. That underlines the excellence of a defence in which central players, J.J. Delaney, although dragged way out the field, and Brian Hogan starred and Jackie Tyrrell was again a massive performer. This time Cillian Buckley did a man marking job of the ever dangerous Danny Sutcliff, and he did splendidly.
Further afield Richie Hogan was supreme at midfield, hurling up a ferocious storm during the second period, and Conor Fogarty played very well too. T.J. Reid’s striking of frees and 65s’ was massive, and newcomer John Power clipped over two nice points and play well besides.
Dublin opened by employing an extra defender. For a while the contest was like a tactical football match, with both sides set up to restrict the opposition rather than take any chances. There was such a fluid form to the teams all afternoon it was hard to know where some players were employed half the time.
Kilkenny worked out the demands of the challenge quickly enough though as Delaney, Hogan and Tyrrell dominated at the back. Larkin’s chasing and blocking up front and in all parts mirrored the selfless approach of all around him, although he was best at it.
After hurling well within themselves, the winners led by 0-13 to 1-6 at half time. They might have been two goals better off. In the seventh minute Colin Fennelly shot straight at the goalie after John Power broke a good ball to his advantage. And in the 25th minute Larkin looked set to get a clear run at goal, but Fennelly’s hand-pass was poor and was blocked by a defender.
Still, at the break the Dubs looked like they had a lot to do if they were to turn the tide. After hostilities resumed the losers conceded minors to Colin Fennelly and Padraig Walsh at the double to fall 0-16 to 1-6 behind.
There was the look of winners about Kilkenny. Definitely!
Dublin played a short passing game for a while after that and they slowly got on top. However, they were unable to make gains on the scoreboard. When Larkin and Fogarty engineered Kilkenny 18th point in the 57th minute it was the end of the road for Dublin.....or rather the new road for them was into the quarter-finals.
Scorers: Kilkenny - T.J. Reid (0-10, four frees, four 65s’); Colin Fennelly, Henry Shefflin (0-3 each); Padraig Walsh (0-2); Richie Hogan (0-2, one free); Brian Hogan, Walter Walsh, John Power, Aidan Fogarty (0-1 each). Dublin - Colm Cronin (1-1); Alan McCrabbe (0-3, frees); Danny Sutcliffe, David O’Callaghan, Conor McCormack, Paul Ryan (0-1 each); Conal Keaney (0-1, penalty).
Kilkenny - David Herity, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Joey Holden, Brian Hogan, Cillian Buckley, Richie Hogan, Conor Fogarty, Walter Walsh, Padraig Walsh, T.J. Reid, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin, John Power. Subs - Henry Shefflin for W. Walsh 55th min; Aidan Fogarty for J. Power 58th min; Lester Ryan for C. Fogarty 68th min.
Dublin - Alan Nolan, Shane Durkin, Peter Kelly, Paul Schutte, Stephen Hiney, Liam Rushe, Michael Carton, Joey Boland, John McCaffrey, Ryan O’Dwyer, Alan McCrabbe, Danny Sutcliffe, David O’Callaghan, Conal Keaney, Colm Cronin. Subs - Conor McCormack for O’Dwyer 28th min; Paul Ryan for Sutcliffe 41st min; Niall McMorrow for Boland 41st min; David Treacy for Keaney 49th min; Niall Corcoran for Schutte 60th min.
Referee - Barry Kelly (Westmeath).
Attendance - 32,567.
Figures of the game - Kilkenny frees 11 (6 and 5); wides 10 (4 and 6); Dublin frees 9 (5 and 4); wides 9 (4 and 5).
Bookings - Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer 14th min; Peter Kelly 68th min.