Cats look too hot to handle for any rivals
NO matter what way you look at it, you can come up with only one conclusion after our first glimpse of Kilkenny at Croke Park yesterday and it's that they seem even stronger than last year.
The reintroduction of Noel Hickey to the full-back line had an obvious knock-on effect, with the restoration of JJ Delaney to the half-back line alongside Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh and it was in that area that they completely dominated and sucked the life out of Dublin.
Kilkenny went five points up at the break, something Anthony Daly would have been quietly happy with, given that they would be playing with the aid of the breeze in the second half. However, on the restart the Cats kicked into a different gear and there was only going to be one winner after that.
When they emptied the bench, they looked even sharper. Aidan Fogarty hit two goals on his introduction and Eoin Larkin showed glimpses of his best form. All the while, Henry Shefflin went about his business and became the top scorer in the history of the championship in a typically understated way.
Dublin were shown that they still have a bit to go before they can dine at the top table regularly but there's not many teams in the country that would have lived with the Cats at times during the second half. And in fairness to Daly, he set up his team a little differently than last year's Leinster final, where they dropped an extra man into defence. This time, they played a slightly more orthodox system and they paid the price, but it's all part of their education and they should put on a decent showing in the qualifiers.
Kilkenny's defence looks to be their greatest strength. John Dalton has battled hard to get into the side at corner-back for a number of seasons and looks set to stay there. Hickey, if he stays fit, is a superb addition while Jackie Tyrrell's record speaks for itself. The half-back line is well protected by Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice and on yesterday's evidence, they will be hot favourites to record a historic five All-Ireland titles in a row.
The Cats' position was strengthened by Galway's performance against Offaly yesterday. They believe they are genuine All-Ireland contenders but Kilkenny would have wiped the floor with either the Tribesmen or Offaly.
Galway's major worry comes from their full-back line. They conceded goals too easily and seemed to be worried by the high ball. Offaly were game and the goals copper-fastened their belief, and they have to be given credit for the way in which they reacted to the harsh dismissal of Daniel Currams.
At that point, Galway looked set to kick on but the ice-cool Shane Dooley bagged an excellent late free to secure a replay next weekend.
John McIntyre's side have more room for improvement than the midlanders and, should Galway get their expected win, it will stand to them going into a Leinster final clash with Kilkenny. They have problems, though, with the entire defence looking less than convincing. Kevin Hynes was brought on and taken off, which is never a good sign, and Donal Barry, who had a good league campaign, was the first man off.
What we saw down at Pairc Ui Chaoimh was sad and it was hard to believe that we were watching a Munster semi-final.
It was like a practice game for Cork, who will have learned nothing about themselves, so there's very little point in talking about the match except to say that it's time all parties in Limerick got together and talked. Any egos involved have to be put to one side for the greater good.
Finally, a quick word of congratulations to everyone involved in hosting the hurling Feile in Clare over the weekend. It was an excellent occasion that involved close to 200 clubs and 5,000 children with Galway's Turloughmore winning the 'A' competition. Well done lads.