Dublin hurlers send champions Kilkenny packing in Portlaoise
Leinster SHC Semi-final replay: Dublin 1-16 Kilkenny 0-16
What does it take to finish off a wounded Kilkenny? A consistent run of hurling matches without the litany of injuries of previous campaigns was all Dublin needed. Well, that and some killer instinct, supplied by superb individual performances from Liam Rushe through to Danny Sutcliffe, Conal Keaney and David O’Callaghan.
But every one of them hurled well on Saturday night to produce a 21-point reversal from last year’s 2-21 to 0-9 massacre in the same O’Moore Park that leaves them one game away from a first Leinster title since 1961.
In reality, if Paul Ryan’s free-taking hadn’t been so out of tune it would have been a comfortable victory.
It was the natural first touch of O’Callaghan and Ryan that squeezed Dublin into a commanding lead and only Kilkenny’s sheer belligerence made it a tight finish.
By that stage Brian Cody had emptied his entire bench, notably withdrawing a sluggish looking Jackie Tyrrell, TJ Reid and Walter Walsh, who had excelled with 1-4 in last week’s draw.
Dublin defenders gave the Kilkenny attack nothing.
Best of all was Rushe as Dublin ended a 71-year winless streak in championship against Kilkenny.
So often the hero in hurling can be found at centre back. Rushe’s combination of bravery and dexterity was astonishing to witness.
Afterwards, he tried to stop Dubliners in the 10,532 crowd from carrying him off the field.
They wouldn’t be denied.
The 23 year old has never been so dominant for Dublin. And what a time to do it. Any debate about the number on his back can be permanently shelved.
“To come to the same venue where we were massacred by Kilkenny last year means there’s a bit of romance to it as well,” said Rushe.
One certainty is Kilkenny’s monopoly of Leinster is over, having also been comprehensively beaten by Galway in last’s year’s provincial final.
This was no fluke. It was down to both tactical and intuitive hurling. Daly left Johnny McCaffrey minding the defence as he pulled David Treacy from the full-forward line.
So much goes through Sutcliffe and Keaney, who had a smashing duel with Conor Joyce, with their physicality making it impossible for Kilkenny defenders to settle into a rhythm.
O’Callaghan was unplayable in the first half, putting Conor Fogarty through the horrors to gather four points from play, in a performance reminiscent of what he produced across Tallaght pitches as a juvenile.
Fear being a marvellous motivator, several who under-performed in the 0-17 to 1-14 draw were shaken into life. At either end of the field, Rushe and Tommy Walsh made themselves known under the most testing of dropping balls but in the hectic opening passages Kilkenny looked a side in desperate need of Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly.