Kilkenny ease past disadvantaged Dublin to retain Leinster crown

It might have been closer had Dublin not lost four players to Covid protocols

Kilkenny 1-25 Dublin 0-19

Kilkenny retained the Bob O’Keeffe Cup on a sweltering evening in Croke Park on Saturday. Apart from a second-quarter flourish, Dublin were always bailing water and never really looked likely to stay afloat given their sundry misfortunes.

The champions were too good anyway but it might have been more of a contest had Mattie Kenny’s team not lost four players, including starters Cian O’Callaghan and Ronan Hayes, to Covid self-isolation protocols.

Instead Kilkenny showcased much of the improvement that is edging them into the All-Ireland conversation, as they qualify for the semi-finals for the third successive year.


“We’re delighted to be Leinster champions first of all and we’re delighted it gets us into an All-Ireland semi-final. Three weeks to go, there are going to be some very good games in the meantime.”

There was a minute’s silence before the throw-in for Monaghan under-20s football captain Brendan Óg Duffy, who died in a road collision the previous night.

Kilkenny captain Adrian Mullen, who had another good match, made a thoughtful acceptance speech extending condolences to the family and to Monaghan GAA.

Mullen’s return from a cruciate injury plus the growing influence of Eoin Cody have complemented the presence of TJ Reid, whose dead-ball conversions were perfect.

They also had serious impact off the bench with six points to keep Dublin comfortably at bay in the final quarter, by which stage it was simply a battle for the challengers to keep the margin to single digits – which they just about achieved.

Final nail

Reid’s 62nd minute penalty awarded after Jake Malone took down Cody and received a sin-binning for his troubles, had nailed the lid on the coffin.

Further improvements came in the shape of James Maher, a former All Star nominee whose career has been blighted by injury but at the weekend he was sprung from the start to mark Danny Sutcliffe, the in-form Dublin captain.

They ended up having a good tussle. Sutcliffe was at the heart of his team’s best period in the second quarter and earlier had flicked a ball over Maher’s head on the way to scoring Dublin’s third.

The Kilkenny man ended up with the better of the argument, though, out-scoring Sutcliffe with 0-3 from play, including on turnover ball.

There was also another big display by the full-back line, Huw Lawlor dominant under high ball and Paddy Deegan nearly as effective.

The match started as if it was going to be an embarrassment. Trailing by 0-0 to 0-4 after just five minutes, Dublin were at sixes and sevens. The gamble on Eoghan O’Donnell’s hamstring came unstuck in the fourth minute and he was replaced by Seán Moran.

The defence was feisty – at times perhaps overly so – and Liam Rushe’s barrelling physicality helped to lift several sieges. James Madden did well to restrict Cody and Paddy Smith kept Reid nearly scoreless from play (0-1) but couldn’t entirely curtail his influence, which guided Kilkenny all afternoon.

In fairness to Dublin they responded well, keeping Kilkenny scoreless for 12 minutes in which time they drew level. Two Chris Crummey points closed the gap and the same player drove a half-chance narrowly wide of Eoin Murphy's goal.

As if jolted out of a deep sleep, Kilkenny rattled off three unanswered points to lead 0-12 to 0-09 at half-time.

Tough break

The absences hit hard for Dublin. In a beleaguered defence, losing Cian O’Callaghan as well as O’Donnell was a tough break. Ronan Hayes has been the form forward as well as one of rallying points in last year’s comeback against the same opposition. Even his replacement, Mark Schutte, who was proving hard to handle, was forced off through injury at the break.

The third-quarter finished the match as a contest. In the seven minutes before the second water break, Kilkenny outscored Dublin by five clear points, to lead 0-20 to 0-12.

Kenny said afterwards that Dublin hadn’t considered looking for a postponement after being informed on Saturday morning that four players had been deemed close contacts. He warned of the impact of Covid on the remainder of the season.

“I think we all have to be conscious of that. This Delta variant is hitting that 15-30-year-old age group. I think for all club and county teams, we’re in more danger than we were any time in the last 18 months because this is so widespread in that younger population and nobody is vaccinated in that population.”

He said that he hoped to have the affected players back in time for the All-Ireland quarter-final in a fortnight.

“So they have to get tested, test negative and test negative again in 10 days’ time. I think if you get another negative test after 10 days [you’re cleared to return]. That’s my understanding; we probably need clarification on that. We’ll hopefully get them back early in the week of the match.”

Cody echoed the cautious sentiment.

“Everybody is going to have to be really, really careful – anyone who wants to continue playing sport. Dublin were disadvantaged; there is no doubt about that, losing players. The reality is it’s there for absolutely everybody and we’re just going to have to be absolutely, totally vigilant.”

KILKENNY 1. E Murphy; 3. H Lawlor, 4. P Deegan, 2. T Walsh; 20. J Maher (0-3), 6. P Walsh, 7. C Browne; 8. R Reid, 23. R Leahy; 10. J Donnelly (0-1), 11. M Keoghan (0-2), 9. A Mullen (0-2); 13. E Cody (0-2). 14. TJ Reid (1-10, 1-0 penalty, eight frees, one 65), 12. B Ryan
Subs 19. M Carey (0-1) for Browne (25 mins), 15. A Murphy (0-2) for Leahy (half-time), 21. C Buckley (0-1) for R Reid (46 mins), 24. W Walsh for Ryan (48 mins), 25. J Bergin (0-2) for Cody (64 mins).

DUBLIN 1. A Nolan (0-1, free); 2. P Smith, 3. E O'Donnell, 7. J Madden; 17. A Dunphy, 6. L Rushe, 5. D Gray; 8 R McBride (0-1), 9. C Burke; 10. D Sutcliffe (capt; 0-2), 11. D Burke (0-10, eight frees), 12. C Crummey (0-2); 13. C Boland (0-1), 23. M Schutte, 15. C O'Sullivan.
Subs 18. S Moran for O'Donnell (4 mins). 25. P Crummey for Schutte (half-time), 20. J Malone (0-1) for Moran (52 mins), 22. D Keogh (0-1) for O'Sullivan (54 mins), 26. D Treacy for Boland (70 mins).

Referee J Murphy (Limerick)

First half 0-12
Second half 1-13
Wides 10
From Play 0-16
Frees conceded 18
Yellow cards 1
Sin bin 0
Red cards 0

First half 0-9
Second half 0-10
Wides 14
From Play 0-10
Frees conceded 13
Yellow cards 3
Sin bin 1
Red cards 0

Attendance 11,000

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times