Dublin’s triumph was epic but hurling was the real winner
Daly’s men have lifted their standards in a championship that is wide open
Conal Keaney was one of the many men to shine for Dublin in their win over Kilkenny. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Other than Richie Power, no Kilkenny forward had a shot from play in the second half of Saturday’s game. Point being, this was all about Dublin. It wasn’t about Kilkenny being fatigued or struggling to find form in June or any other excuse you can think of. They were beaten fair and square. They were outhurled and out muscled.
Kilkenny, actually, were even more energetic than I expected them to be. They worked damn hard throughout. I didn’t envisage a huge improvement from the drawn game in their hurling. The confidence levels looked the same.
In stark contrast, Dublin have incrementally lifted their standards week on week. The importance of that draw down in Wexford Park is evident once again. The management seemed to be coming under serious pressure in the run up to that game but the belief within the group has soared since.
So has the touch of the players. Hurling matches are the only way to really bring your touch on and develop a more intuitive method of play.
The heavy training in Bere Island before the league semi-final, when they were torn apart by Tipperary, seems to be standing to them now. They look very sharp and very strong, particularly Liam Rushe, Danny Sutcliffe and Conal Keaney, but all over the field they had a physical edge on Kilkenny.
Rushe was immense at centre back but the power of Sutcliffe and Keaney caused huge problems for Kilkenny around the middle third. They kept their half back line in check, never allowing Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan or Kieran Joyce settle on any ball and won a load of Gary Maguire’s puck outs. They created space and got shots away, while Sutcliffe finished the all- important goal.
Paul Schutte was well in control of Walter Walsh, keeping him scoreless after he tortured Dublin with 1-4 the previous week. Walsh was replaced on the hour. Jackie Tyrrell wasn’t long following him at which stage Brian Cody had emptied the bench.
Dotsy O’Callaghan was also outstanding in the inside forward line and so was Paul Ryan in the early stages. He just seemed to lose confidence when his frees refused to go over the bar. But Dublin took the best Kilkenny could throw at them and only for Ryan’s inaccuracy they would’ve run out easier winners. They were the better team.
It all means something special is brewing. This is now shaping up to be the championship everyone wants it to be. If you are from Kilkenny you’d like to be winning every year but I’m reminded of the mid-1990s when we had a different county winning every year.
It is certainly the most open championship for a very, very long time. Dublin are part of that now. A few weeks ago it looked like it was all falling apart, as Joey Boland and younger dual players were edging towards football.
This morning they are still on course to win a first Leinster championship since 1961 but, like another five or six counties, they are realistic All-Ireland contenders. I genuinely believe any of the these teams could beat the other now.
How they react mentally this week will be key. They have come through four games but have nothing to show for it. The euphoria of the supporters must be ignored. At least the players were calm-looking afterwards but Dublin hurling people got very excited. Understandably.
I know I’d prefer to be coming into a provincial final with four games in my back pocket. You get into a groove, training is light. Match, recovery, match is a hurler’s dream routine. I think they will improve again.
Kilkenny are in a very unfamiliar situation. Their forwards somehow need to find a way to raise their standard before Tipperary arrive on Saturday night. The goals of previous summers have dried up.
I even had my doubts about the authenticity of the league final performance in Nowlan Park. There was a fair bit of shadow boxing that day.
Paul Murphy is as serious a loss as Michael Fennelly and we know how badly they are struggling without Henry Shefflin. Tyrrell was probably pressed back into service a little too quickly and was in all sorts of trouble, conceding frees and he was blown for over -carrying. Kilkenny were fighting manfully but under constant pressure.
Conor Fogarty couldn’t get close to Dotsy. The pattern of the game was evident from very early on with Kilkenny defenders struggling to clear their lines as seen when O’Callaghan came out and caught a ball over Tommy Walsh’s head. Even Brian Hogan put a ball out over the sideline.
A do-or-die effort against Tipperary is not what they need right now but it’s what the Hurling Development Committee envisaged when the qualifiers were introduced.
I was on the HDC when this system was put together and I remember Liam Griffin arguing for it to be introduced. The vision being two big hurling counties meeting at a provincial venue on a Saturday night. And here we are.
Hurling will be the real winner. No shadow boxing this time around.