Dublin can put up a redemptive performance but lack the cutting edge to trouble Kilkenny
Anthony Daly’s side owe themselves for last year’s no-show but it’s hard to see them winning
Conal Keaney: For Dublin to have any chance, he has to be a constant presence in the game. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
The distance from where we thought we were with this fixture 364 days ago and where we assume we are now is remarkable. Back then, a Dublin win seemed a perfectly feasible proposition. Kilkenny were without Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice, Henry Shefflin was easing his way back. Dublin were coming in with no injuries and had bulked up over the winter, specifically with Kilkenny in mind.
When it was over, the only wonder was that the 2-21 to 0-9 beating hadn’t been more severe. Lost a little in the general gloom that followed Dublin’s collapse was the fact that Gary Maguire had been Dublin’s stand-out performer, pulling off a string of terrific saves in the second half. On top of which, Shefflin had barely hurled a ball in open play all afternoon. And still 18 points was the gap.
It was an outcome utterly in keeping with games between the two sides in the Brian Cody era. Over seven championship matches, the average distance between the teams has been a shade under 16 points.
To ladle on some context, Offaly are just over 14½ points per game worse off for their meetings with Kilkenny across those years and Wexford have been an almost boast-worthy 8.4 points per game short. Plus, they’ve actually registered a win. Dublin got within two goals in the 2009 Leinster final but that’s been about it. Look but don’t touch.
Finding reasons why tomorrow should buck the trend is largely a straw-clutching exercise. Dublin haven’t particularly fired in either of their two games against Wexford but there were flashes here and there of what they can offer. Conal Keaney’s move to the forwards for the replay gave him freedom to move around and mix up the play. Nominally sited at wing forward, he popped up in midfield and at full-forward to good effect last weekend.
For Dublin to have any chance, Keaney has to be a constant presence in the game. But which of the multitude of jobs that he can do should Anthony Daly pick him for? Leave him to roam around the forward line and you put a premium on the ball coming in from the Dublin defenders, none of whom are likely to be delivering it at their leisure.
We can be certain that the one thing Kilkenny won’t do is lose their shape to suit him, so unless Dublin’s striking improves by exponentials since last week it isn’t a stretch to see Tommy Walsh or Kieran Joyce eating up any such tactic.
More likely, Keaney will simply face off on Walsh and let the chippiness fall where it may. In that scenario, Daly needs a huge game from Conor McCormack at full-forward. JJ Delaney had a whale of a time putting Liam Rushe in his place under the dropping ball last year and nothing we’ve seen so far would suggest a different outcome with McCormack in there.
His bustling style of play is more about dragging defenders out of position than causing panic in and around the house. Daly could move Ryan O’Dwyer in there to wreak a bit of havoc but again, it’s robbing-Peter stuff. Truth is, although Dublin’s forwards improved as they went along against Wexford they still haven’t shown enough cutting edge to imagine they can trouble Kilkenny here.
For all the talk of possible cracks in the Kilkenny defence, moreover, it’s entirely probable that Offaly’s four goals a fortnight ago are a red herring. Eoin Murphy won’t be a debutant again, Paul Murphy has built up a hefty enough bank of credit to assume he won’t be caught as badly flat-footed again either. Ditto Joyce with the heinous turnover that led to the Dan Currams goal. Kilkenny had a careless day at the office and still only conceded 13 scores. They haven’t become Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle all of a sudden.
They are still missing Shefflin however and though they’ve muddled through perfectly well so far without him, they’ve shown in the past that they’re not above requiring him to shake them out of a flat performance.
Richie Power and Richie Hogan didn’t assert themselves until the second half against Offaly and Eoin Larkin’s main contribution was from placed balls. These are Kilkenny’s made men in Shefflin’s absence – waiting for a full half to get in amongst it isn’t his way and it can’t be theirs. Not all of them at once at any rate.
Dublin owe themselves a performance. But whatever distance that might take them, winning feels a furlong or two beyond it.
DUBLIN (SHC v Kilkenny): G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Kelly, P Schutte; S Hiney, L Rushe, M Carton; J McCaffrey, J Boland; C Keaney, R O’Dwyer, D Sutcliffe; P Ryan, D Treacy, C McCormack.