It was hard to fathom Kilkenny’s sharp up and down form in Portlaoise on Sunday after the players suggested they were capable of so much during a very promising performance in the opening half.
At half-time, with the teams level at 0-8 each after Dublin had played with the near gale force wind, the game appeared to be heading towards one outcome - a Kilkenny victory.
It was all nicely set up. The Noresiders legendary ability to maintain their focus and habit of driving on when they had teams in a vulnerable position would click in and they would power on to victory and a place in the Leinster final against Galway on July 7.
It didn’t happen. There was a fleeting moment when it was suggted that it might when Kilkenny all but slapped Dublin in the face when scoring a goal in the 43rd minute. The Dubs had laboured to piece together an attacking move, but an effort for a point fell short.
Goalie Eoin Murphy snapped the ball out of the sky and lashed it straight down the field.
Within seconds of Dublin threatening at one end, Walter Walsh had the ball in the net at the other. It was a good score. It was the sort of score that lifts one teams, and hurts the other.
The Dubs were behind, 1-8 to 0-10, after playing some mighty hurling since the change around. Surely this was it? This was when Kilkenny would make their big move! It didn’t happen.
The next score was an equaling point from Dublin midfielder, John McCaffrey after charging through the heart of the opposing defence. Dublin had gained a serious foothold in the match. They had their game plan of spraying the ball low and wide, never giving possession away with hopeful long clearances out of defence, operating to perfection.
Kilkenny were under pressure. They countered the opposition’s ploy of playing an extra defender by placing Cillian Buckley, who started the second half at midfield after opening at wing forward, between their own two lines of defence.
The All-Ireland champions held it together at the back reasonably well in the face of constant pressure, but the forwards were making no headway. Up until T.J. Reid clipped over the equalising point in ‘lost time’ that forced a reply, the only two attackers who had scored during the closing half were Walter Walsh and Eoin Larkin, who had contributed four points from frees.
This showing on the back of the less than sparkling display against Offaly in Tullamore, when four goals were conceded, left question marks hanging over Kilkenny. The glut of injuries has hurt the MacCarthy Cup holders.
Things got worse on Sunday after Paul Murphy was stretchered off with an ankle injury, and Michael Rice and Brian Hogan limped out of the dressing-room after the match. They will drive on, but it is not easy.