Very relieved is the only way to describe how Kilkenny supporters felt as they trekked out of Portlaoise. The Cats came mighty close to losing a tie that at one stage they seem very capable of winning.
The strong wind was expected to be a factor. Dublin, though, despite playing with it in the first half did not score until the 12th minute. By that stage Kilkenny had three points scored.
Dublin wasted numerous scoring chances in the half with free taker Paul Ryan guilty of erratic shooting. Despite playing with the strong downfield wind Dublin’s short ball tactic caused them many problems which resulted in a number of Kilkenny points.
The Metropolitans also opted to repeat the aerial bombardment deployed by Offaly in the previous round, but this time the Kilkenny full-back line mastered the aerial exchanges.
Murphy a big loss
The loss of Paul Murphy from what appeared to be a serious ankle injury was a huge blow to Kilkenny and it continues a worrying trend of injuries. The hurling during the first half was far from vintage, but Kilkenny would have been very happy to go in all-square at the break.
Dublin should have been a couple of points ahead, and with the Cats having the advantage of the elements in the second half the odds appeared heavily stacked against the Dubs. Any notion that the second half would be a stroll for Kilkenny was quickly dismissed when Dublin scored early points through Paul Schutte (a corner back) and Joey Boland.
Dublin was a transformed team, but all that changed in the 43rd minute with a brilliant Walter Walsh goal. That score was particularly galling for Dublin because moments earlier they should have pointed through Mark Schutte but the ball landed into the inviting hands of Eoin Murphy, who cleared. Walter Walsh gained possession from the delivery and netted.
Kilkenny followers expected the Cats to push on even though Dublin was now playing with seven defenders and every Kilkenny score was hard-earned. Paddy Hogan was initially Kilkenny’s spare defender (it was Cillian Buckley later) and his astute positioning worked well.
But Dublin, despite having only five forwards, used the flanks effectively. It worked well on a number of occasions with substitutes David O’Callaghan and Mark Schutte posing problems. Kilkenny had real difficulties from midfield up all through and but for a virtuoso performance from Walter Walsh, Dublin might have been celebrating a famous win.
The Dubs defence excelled in the second half. Their ability to win the aerial duals must be addressed by Kilkenny. Dublin will surely feel they left the game behind them. They will have no fears for the replay.
Injuries continue to haunt Kilkenny. With Paul Murphy a likely absentee now, the hope is that Jackie Tyrrell and Michael Fennelly will be available.
This was another sluggish display from Kilkenny, but the big question is can Dublin give a repeat performance. It is most important, though, that Kilkenny gets a fully fit squad available for selection quickly. Maybe then the Cats can deliver the type of performances with which we have become accustomed to over the past decade.