Kilkenny feel the heat
GAELIC GAMES/Leinster SHC Final: Maybe it didn't administer the explosive hit of the dying-seconds semi-final win over Kilkenny but Dublin's thorough victory over Wexford in yesterday's Leinster minor hurling final was affirmation of the great work done at underage level in the county. Seán Moran reports from Croke Park
It also cheered the hurling world in general and Leinster's in particular at a time when there has been much gloomy contemplation of the game's diminishing catchment.
If the win was driven by a centrefield powerhouse of Joseph Boland and John McCaffrey, with seven points between them, it was also well steered by the team as a whole holding their nerve after last week's famous win over champions Kilkenny.
The lead was efficiently built up and maintained through some hair-raising moments - one in particular from Keith Burke in injury time when his pull on a ball bobbling around the goalmouth flew wide.
As if now full sure of success, Dublin tacked on two more points for a 0-17 to 0-12 victory.
It is the county's first such title since 1983 and only the second in 40 years.
That 1965 success was followed by Dublin's last All-Ireland title at the grade and they will try to close that gap with all the enthusiasm and confidence that yesterday's breakthrough win will undoubtedly generate.
The feeling of wellbeing pervaded the senior final, which, far from the remorseless rout that many had feared, turned out to be a really entertaining match featuring some fine hurling from both Wexford and Kilkenny.
Given their remote outsider status, despite being defending champions, Wexford's display was a cheering revelation.
Having fallen to an injury-time goal against the same opponents 13 months ago, Kilkenny were presumably well warned but if lightning didn't quite strike in the same place for a second time it struck ground sufficiently close by to leave the favourites a little scorched and smouldering, 0-22 to 1-16.
Kilkenny were the better team and made that superiority tell in the last quarter. But for sterling defence, the winners might have had at least three goals and they were still within catching distance by the end of the best Leinster final this decade.
So it was that victorious captain Peter Barry could more cheerfully shoulder the now customary burden of his county, that of talking up hurling in the frequently moribund context of the Leinster championship.
After a semi-final double bill that returned a cumulative winning margin of 42 points, yesterday's cut and thrust must have made success all the sweeter.
"I know some people were knocking Leinster hurling," said Barry, "and blowing us up in a big way. But we've been saying all along that there's nothing wrong with Leinster hurling.
"I know the semi-finals weren't great advertisements for the game, but both teams came up to win that day and it was the same today.
"As far as I can tell it was cracker. Thankfully we finished it out, but again I think people were blowing us up unnecessarily.
"I think that was a great game for Leinster hurling and even to see the Dublin minors winning today, was great as well.
"Things are being spread around now, and all the myths about Kilkenny hurling and all the young lads we've coming through aren't really true. Still, today was a great day for us."
Wexford manager Séamus Murphy was proud of his side's forceful defence of their provincial title but naturally disappointed as the narrow margin that separated them from putting one over on the 10 to 1 on favourites sank in after the match.
"We'd put in a huge effort to retain the Leinster title, and I felt coming up here we were very positive about doing that.
"We felt we were true champions from last year. So we'd be very disappointed we just couldn't quite do that.
"We knew the press were making Kilkenny red-hot favourites and rightly so, because this is a tremendous panel they have. They were able to bring on people like Michael Kavanagh and Eddie Brennan and that's their real strength really and probably the difference. But I still think we were part of a great game of hurling."
Both sides now progress to the All-Ireland quarter-finals and will learn their opponents' identity next week after the final round of qualifier matches.
The draw for football's third qualifier round was made yesterday and pick of the fixtures is the rerun of last year's fourth-round match between Derry, who touched off Down in yesterday's second-round qualifier, and Limerick, comfortable winners over Carlow on Saturday.
On the first big weekend of surprise results Louth defeated Roscommon, and will play the winners of Monaghan and Wexford, Sligo pipped Kildare by a point and Leitrim took Meath to extra time before bowing out.
The other two surprises came from Clare and Cavan.
Last year's Leinster champions, Westmeath, went down to Clare and manager Páidí Ó Sé stepped down after two years in charge of the midlanders, whom he took to a first provincial title less than 12 months ago.
Meanwhile in Ulster Cavan, fresh from last week's trimming at the hands of Tyrone, sprang a surprise on Brian McEniff's erratic Donegal. Cavan won 1-11 to 1-10.