INCREDIBLE as it seems, Kilkenny found a way to break another hurling record on Sunday.
A demolition of Dublin marked the county’s seventh successive Leinster senior hurling title, a first for the province. However, it was the way that they delivered a 13th crown in 14 years that really impressed the most.
Showing an attacking threat of vintage performances (and a mean-ness at the back) Kilkenny went for Dublin’s jugular – and practically ripped it out. Four goals which displayed different qualities of their game, plus a barrage of points, banished memories of Walsh Cup and League final losses in style.
Right from the off Kilkenny roared into action and never really let up. A brace of Shefflin frees, split by a fine Michael Rice strike, allowed them to ease into a three-point lead by the sixth minute.
Dublin got off the mark thanks to Paul Ryan’s tenth minute free, but any hopes of a comeback were dashed in a matter of seconds. Eoin Larkin did the damage, finding room from a seemingly impossible angle to squeeze the sliotar in between the post and netminder Gary Maguire.
The ease with which Kilkenny worked the sliotar around rattled the Dubs, who switched players through several positions in an effort to stem the flow of attacks. It was to no avail; Richie Power landed a point after possession had moved through the hands of Shefflin and Eoin Larkin, before Shefflin found room to deliver a low pass which Rice turned into his second point of the afternoon.
While the old reliables might have shown their scoring touch was still there, some of the new faces were just as keen to stamp their authority on the game.
Corner-forward Colin Fennelly was one of those, and marked his first Leinster senior final appearance in some style. Racing on to Richie Power’s looping 20th minute pass, Fennelly turned Oisin Gough inside-out before cutting back along the endline to flick the sliotar past Maguire.
That goal was quickly followed by the withdrawal of centre-back Joey Boland, who had endured a torrid 22 minutes on the field. With his replacement, Maurice O’Brien, came a more physical approach to the game by Dublin - but that was like food and drink to a hungry Kilkenny defence.
Grew in stature
The more that was thrown at them, the greater the Cats grew in stature. The return of Tommy Walsh certainly helped, as his presence galvanised the Kilkenny half-back line, not that colleagues Brian Hogan and Paul Murphy were found wanting either.
It was looking all too easy for Kilkenny, but they refused to slow down. Although Dublin rattled off three points in seven minutes, their most productive spell of the half they couldn’t close a gap which had grown to six points by the half hour.
They almost cut the deficit in two on 33 minutes after Shane Durkin’s lofted ball ricocheted off a body on the edge of the Kilkenny square and sped towards David Herity’s net.
Wrong-footed by the deflection, it looked like Herity was beaten. Somehow, he managed to arc back to his right, throwing out his hurley far enough to stop the sliotar on the line and pull it away from the corner of his net.
Although Paul Ryan did add a free soon after, Herity’s save left the Dubs deflated. Two more Shefflin points heaped even more misery on them before Brian Hogan rubbed salt into the wounds, exchanging passes with Shefflin before ending a burst towards the Hill 16 End posts with fine point to leave the Cats purring on a nine-point cushion at the break (2-10 to 0-7).
Any slim hopes Dublin had of getting back into the game were all but extinguished five minutes after the restart. Starting for goal, T.J. Reid spotted that Shefflin had been left unmarked out on the right flank. A quick hand-pass gave Shefflin the simple task of sprinting in before rifling an unstoppable shot past Maguire.
It was rapidly turning into a mismatch, as Kilkenny continued to turn the screw. Dublin continued to pick off scraps, with Paul Ryan profiting from two frees, but Shefflin and Richie Hogan did enough to maintain that double digit deficit as the game ticked into the last 20 minutes (3-13 to 0-12).
It could have been worse for Dublin, as Maguire made a fine save to deny Eoin Larkin his second goal of the game, but the afternoon did offer up a chink of light for the Blues in the final quarter. Ryan grabbed his eighth point of the day from a free on 55 minutes, then 60 seconds later hit the net from another, finding a big enough gap to drill the ball through a sea of players.
That left six points in it (3-13 to 1-13), but within seconds Kilkenny snuffed out that flickering flame of hope. Richie Power caught a high ball and released it to Rice, who gave a beleaguered Maguire no chance with his stinging point-blank shot.
After that, there was no way back. Kilkenny – D. Herity, N. Hickey, J.J. Delaney, J. Tyrrell, T. Walsh, B. Hogan, P. Murphy, M. Fennelly, T.J. Reid, M. Rice, R. Power, H. Shefflin, C. Fennelly, E. Larkin, R. Hogan. Subs: P. Hogan for Delaney, 36 mins; J. Fitzpatrick for Reid, 52 mins; J. Mulhall for Larkin, M. Ruth for Power, both 70 mins.
Dublin – G. Maguire, N. Corcoran, P. Kelly, O. Gough, J. McCaffrey, J. Boland, S. Durkin, L. Rushe, A. McCrabbe, S. Lambert, C. Keaney, C. McCormack, D. O’Callaghan, P. Ryan, P. Carton. Subs: M. O’Brien for Boland, 22 mins; P. Schutte for Gough, D. O’Dwyer for Carton, both 36 mins; D. Plunkett for Lambert, 44 mins; S. Ryan for O’Callaghan, 65 mins.
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath).