Kilkenny expose huge gulf in class


Leinster SHC Kilkenny 4-19 Dublin 0-12: THE SENSE of predestination before this match was strong. And it didn’t exactly diminish when after 42 seconds Gary Maguire was picking the ball out of the Dublin net. The outsiders resisted manfully for much of the first half but eventually the levee broke and All-Ireland champions Kilkenny swept to victory in yesterday’s Leinster hurling semi-final.

It wasn’t a vintage performance by the holders and their uncharacteristic wastefulness when shooting for scores played a major role in keeping Dublin afloat but the strength of their bench was demonstrated as their replacements surged into the match and helped Kilkenny win in the final quarter by 2-6 to 0-2.

Twelve months ago against the same opponents in the provincial final, Dublin played an extra defender in an effort to make it difficult for Kilkenny and the tactic was a qualified success, keeping down the margin of defeat and underwriting a reasonably competitive display.

Manager Anthony Daly said he had decided yesterday against that approach – beyond dropping John McCaffrey back for opposition puck-outs – but judging from the outcome of the less cautious approach the conservative agenda had its merits, not that there’s any guarantee that a seventh man back would have stemmed the tide.

Nonetheless Daly was happy with the response to the early setback, as his team closed to within a point at the end of the first quarter but equally he acknowledged that such had been the range of Kilkenny’s chances Dublin were lucky to be within five at half-time.

The match will be memorable for one thing, Henry Shefflin’s achievement in the 19th minute of moving to the top of the all-time championship scorers’ list. He started just three points behind Eddie Keher’s record of 439 (34-234) and bettered his career average of nine with a 12-point return to surpass his distinguished fellow county man and take his total to 448 (22-382).

Even he wasn’t completely unaffected by the squandermania that saw his team hit 17 wides but Shefflin still managed an 80 per cent return from the one of the less taxing afternoons of his career.

Dublin full back Tomás Brady was caught for the first goal, out-fielded by TJ Reid whose lay-off to Eddie Brennan ended up efficiently dispatched to net. But the challengers settled down and with Alan McCrabbe, prolific as usual from dead balls, keeping the scoreboard moving they looked to have recovered equilibrium.

But throughout the match there was no avoiding the all-too-visible gap in class. Although their wides count was commendably low, Dublin struggled to make the best of their chances.

David O’Callaghan had a similar chance to Brennan’s goal a couple of minutes later but his shot went for a point. Liam Rushe climaxed a strong run along the end line just before half-time by firing from an acute angle into the side-netting. Attempts were also made to cash in three close-range frees but amidst hints of desperation, none of them penetrated.

Kilkenny defended well and their wing backs, Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney, restored to his best position, swallowed up a succession of speculative ball. Daly said afterwards that Liam Ryan had done Trojan work breaking ball but Walsh as usual was everywhere picking up breaks and returning the ball.

Despite a couple of nice scores by half-backs Joey Boland and Maurice O’Brien, Dublin were fighting an expanding deficit and Shefflin’s seventh point followed by Reid’s second gave Kilkenny a 1-10 to 0-8 lead at the break.

The second half didn’t start as positively as Dublin would have liked but they maintained the differential with a couple of points from a briefly invigorated Peter Kelly. Gary Maguire made another of a number of saves, this time from Michael Fennelly and a deft touch from Shefflin under a dropping line ball caused some panic and a frantic clearance.

Dublin weren’t making a sufficient impact at the other end though and the danger of not maximising the returns against Kilkenny became clear in the 49th minute when Richie Power, subdued until then, sped onto a ball and skinned the cover, and calmly slotted the goal for a nine-point margin, 2-13 to 0-10, that stretched the match completely beyond the losers’ reach.

Substitute Paul Ryan was brought down by namesake PJ in the Kilkenny goal but couldn’t convert the penalty, which Delaney stopped on the line. It just got worse after that. The champions were able to unleash three experienced All-Ireland winners, Derek Lyng, Eoin Larkin and Aidan Fogarty, into the fray as well as promising newcomer John Mulhall. They all piled the pressure on the now demoralised opposition.

Fogarty scored two goals in three minutes, sandwiching two even more rapid-fire points by Michael Rice, and the margin stretched into the forbidding region of the advanced double digits, so familiar to Kilkenny’s Leinster opponents over the past decade or so. A rusty performance by the champions then, but everything’s in working order.

KILKENNY:1 PJ Ryan; 2 J Dalton, 3 N Hickey, 4 J Tyrrell; 5 T Walsh, 6 B Hogan, 7 JJ Delaney; 8 M Rice (0-2), 9 M Fennelly; 10 M Comerford (0-1), 11 R Hogan (0-1), 12 H Shefflin (0-12, eight frees, two 65s); 13 E Brennan (1-1), 14 TJ Reid (0-2), 15 R Power (1-0). Subs:20 E Larkin for Hogan (44 mins), 21 A Fogarty (2-0) for Brennan (53 mins), 28 J Mulhall for Reid (53 mins), 19 D Lyng for Power (64 mins). Yellow cards:None

DUBLIN:1 G Maguire; 2 N Corcoran, 3 T Brady, 4 O Gough; 5 S Hiney, 6 J Boland (0-1), 7 M O’Brien (0-1); 8 J McCaffrey (0-1, 65), 9 S Durkin; 14 L Rushe, 24 L Ryan, 11 P Kelly (0-2); 13 D O’Callaghan (0-1), 10 S Lambert, 15 A McCrabbe (0-6, frees). Subs:12 P Ryan for Lambert (ht), 18 M Carton for O’Brien (45 mins), 23 D O’Dwyer for Durkin (45), 30 D Treacy for O’Callaghan (51), 21 K Flynn for L Ryan (63). Yellow cards:O’Brien (29 mins), McCaffrey (53 mins), Hiney (63).

Referee:Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)