DEFEAT was bad enough, but Kilkenny were robbed of even a morsel of consolation when their season was ended by losing in what was a poor and disappointing Leinster minor hurling championship semi-final in Portlaois on Saturday.
The brutal truth was that the Cats played badly, be that in terms of the skills level produced and the way they took to the challenge. They did forge a window of opportunity when a short bout of good and determined hurling late in the third quarter opened up the contest and left the divide at a mere two points.
However, when the bit was between their teeth, and when Dublin, who were happy to employ extra personnel in defence, were showing just a touch of nerves and frailty, the Cats failed to lift their game and drive into the opposition.
The score was 1-7 to 0-8 at the time after Kilkenny had out-scored the opposition by 0-4 to 0-2, but the force faded from the charge after that and the Dubs slipped through to the Leinster final.
“They are a good side,” insisted disappointed Kilkenny manager, Adrian Roan afterwards. “Going on results on the challenge circuit for the last six months I would have thought we would have been closers. We didn’t perform at all.
“We are disappointed at the way we performed. No one goes out to play badly. It is disappointing because the players put in a massive effort and the cooperation was excellent.
“We had 14 Leaving Cert pupils, so maybe that worked against us. Dublin were the better team though. Physically we were blown out of it. They took their chances and we didn’t.
We were beaten by a better team.
“You can analyse it all you like, but the simple truth was that Dublin were better than us. We thought we had everything right, but now we known we didn’t have everything right. On the day lads didn’t perform as they can.
Shock and disappointment, he insisted, were the predominant feelings. Kilkenny’s preparations were “excellent”, he insisted.
“We just fell flat on the day,” the Graigue-Ballycallan clubman continued. “Things went against us all over the place. When it is not your day, it is not your day. When we brought the gap down to two points we should have kicked on. We didn’t. That was it.
“A betting man would have said we had every chance at half-time. When we had the deficit back to two points it was our big chance. We didn’t drive on and we paid the price.”
Dublin, who contested last year’s All-Ireland final, were physically bigger and stronger than their opponents, with the likes of Sean McClelland, Cormac Costello, Robert Murphy and Paul Winters their leading men. McClelland was a mighty man at wing-back, while Costello, who scored a hat-trick of goals in one championship game last season, produced big time when the winners needed him most during the closing quarter.
Kilkenny punched poorly in attack during the opening half when wing-forward, Conor Martin, was the only player to register a score. At the break the score was 1-5 to 0-4 in favour of the Dubs.
The concession of the goal in the 22nd minute changed the complexion of the exchanges. The Noresiders had opened well enough although playing into the wind towards the Abbeyleix end.
Martin drove over two early points from play before they were awarded a penalty in the 11th minute after Shane Donnelly had been fouled. Martin’s low effort to the left of the ’keeper ended with the ball being turned out for a 65, which Martin pointed.
Kilkenny showed 0-3 to no score in front after putting in a decent shift of work. Dublin opened their account in the 15th minute through Costello, who fielded a great ball on midfield before shooting it between the posts.
Wing-back McClelland landed a second from 50 metres before the Dublin goal arrived in the 22nd minute. Colm Cronin drove in a good ball from the left side of midfield, and from the right edge of the square Paul Winters, with an overhead tennis like stroke, smashed the ball into the empty net with the Kilkenny defence badly marshalled.
Suddenly the tables were turned. Dublin, after a mere seven minutes of decent hurling from them, were 1-2 to 0-3 to the good.
Winters boosted the advantage with a brace of scores from frees before he added a third after two of the losers’ defenders had a chance of taking charge of possession before him.
A late Kilkenny point from Conor Martin, following a foul on Kevin Walsh, left the divide at the interval at 1-5 to 0-4. The losers, despite the fact that they had only one scores, looked reasonably well placed.
After all they had played against the wind, and they had failed to reap any reward from a penalty.
If anything, the wind grew in force for a while after the action resumed. Costelloe boosted the Dublin account within 15 seconds of the restart when he claimed the ball from the throw-in before charging up the field to shoot a point.
Kilkenny, to their credit, dug in. With Chris Bolger hurling very well and becoming a real force on the half-back line, and Ciaran Ryan dropping deep to pick up loose ball, they began to produce their best. Ciaran Doyle, Enda Morrissey and Martin also lifted their game.
Shane Donnelly was fouled during a run towards the goal. Martin popped over the free. Winters replied through a free. Martin hit the target at the other end before a nice move started on the Kilkenny full-back line ended with Martin raising a flag at the other end.
When Ciaran Ryan delivered in a low ball from midfield and sub, David Burke, pointed with his first touch to slice the gap to 0-8 to 1-7, the force was definitely with Kilkenny. However, they failed to press on.
Dublin relieved the pressure when a defender was judged to have over carried the ball – a good number of like calls were made during the match – in the 42nd minute and Winters hit the target from a free 50 metres on the left.
Shane Donnelly hit back for a point for the losers but within seconds Cormac Costello, who was growing in influence, answered with a point (1-9 to 0-9).
When a defender over carried again and Paul Winters converted another free for Dublin, an element of desperation crept into Kilkenny’s play. The chase after that was rushed and without real direction. Dublin held out at their ease.
Dublin – Cian MacGabhann, Shane Barrett, Cian O’Callaghan, Eric Lowndes, Eoghan O’Donnell, Robert Murphy, Sean McClelland, Cormac Costello, Colm Cronin, Conor McHugh, Sean Treacy, Caolan Conway, Paul Winters, Cian Boland, Oisin O’Rourke. Subs – Tom Devlin for E. Lowndes 43rd min; Chris Bennett for C. McHugh 59th min; James Roche for C. Boland 60th min.
Kilkenny – Dara Holohan, Ciaran Doyle, Jack McDowell, Robbie Fitzpatrick, Chris Bolger, Enda Morrissey (capt), James Maher, Michael Donnelly, Kevin Walsh, Ciaran Ryan, Diarmuid Cody, Conor Martin, Kevin Kenny, Eoin Bergin, Shane Donnelly. Subs – David Burke for E. Bergin 38th min; Mark Mansfield for K. Walsh 47th min; Jack McGrath for K. Kenny 51st min.
Referee – Justin Heffernan (Wexford).