independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Daly's Dublin in fullbloom

Cats mauling to spark major change in game's landscape
Dublin 0-22
Kilkenny 1-7

Joint captains John McCaffrey (left) and Stephen Hiney lift the cup after Dublin's victory over Kilkenny in the Allianz Hurling League final at Croke Park yesterday.

It has been a long time coming but a new hurling empire has been established in blazing blue technicolour.

For the first time in 72 years, a national hurling crown is in Dublin's possession after a truly remarkable performance at Croke Park yesterday which saw them capture the title in dramatic circumstances that defied sporting logic.

Who could possibly have foreseen that Dublin would outgun Kilkenny so comprehensively that they weren't in any way flattered by the 12-point winning margin?

Who would have thought that Kilkenny would suffer their biggest defeat in a major final since losing by 17 points to Wexford in the 1976 Leinster final?

And who would have imagined that Kilkenny would be restricted to 1-7, with only 1-1 coming from open play? The goal, scored by Eddie Brennan, came in the 10th minute, which means that Kilkenny scored a single point from open play over the next hour, possibly an unprecedented development in the county's history.

Paltry

They managed a paltry 0-5, all of which came from frees, with the aid of a strong wind in the second half as their attack ran aground on the jagged rocks of a Dublin defence which exploited their numerical advantage most intelligently.

With Dublin's stock having risen considerably in the course of this league -- their only defeat was against Galway -- Kilkenny needed to bring their A-game to the challenge, but they never came close to building up the momentum levels which made them such a destructive force in their All- Ireland four-in-a-row run.

Kilkenny struggled from the start as Dublin switched on to the demands of the big occasion as if they had been playing in finals every year for the past decade.

Even the goal setback didn't disrupt them as they tacked on eight unanswered points over the next 15 minutes to lead by 0-10 to 1-1.

Granted, Dublin had the a stiff wind behind them but there was a whole lot more than the elements underpinning their dominance. Ryan O'Dwyer, Paul Ryan and Conal Keaney were doing exceptionally well in attack; Liam Rushe was the most influential figure around midfield, while the defence were coping comfortably against a Kilkenny attack where there was a marked absence of ball winners.

Kilkenny's already serious situation took a dramatic turn for the worst in the 25th minute when Eoin Larkin was sent off for a pull on Conor McCormack. Larkin had been awarded a free but retaliated and paid a heavy price.

On another day with a different referee, he might have escaped with a caution but Michael Wadding flashed a straight red card and cancelled the free.

It was all going horribly wrong for Kilkenny and, as Dublin's increased the pressure, they were unlucky not to have a goal right on the stroke of half-time when McCormack beat David Herity.

However, much to the fury of the Dublin players, the referee had blown for half-time which arrived just as a melee broke out after John Dalton pulled on McCormack.

Dalton was lucky not follow Larkin to the dugout but the referee took no action, much to Kilkenny's relief.

Still, they had more than enough problems to contend with when they started the second half trailing by 0-11 to 1-2. In normal circumstances, a six-point deficit wouldn't have looked all that intimidating for Kilkenny but this was a day when their touch and timing were way off, resulting in possession being lost regularly, passes going astray and no real coherence to their recovery plan.

They were also unable to impose themselves physically on a Dublin team that grew in confidence and stature as the game progressed. Even when the Dubs lost Joey Boland with a shoulder injury in the 44th minute, it made no appreciable difference to their momentum as Rushe dropped back to No 6 and secured the area before going off late on.

The closest Kilkenny came to Dublin in the second half was six points but they never looked like getting for the goal which their disjointed challenge so badly needed. Boland's injury resulted in six minutes of stoppage-time, a period in which Dublin fired over six unanswered points to leave Kilkenny well beaten in a major final for the second time in eight months.

To add to their misery, they lost JJ Delaney to injury, the latest in a lengthy list of big-name casualties.

The importance of players like Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Richie Power and Michael Fennelly to the Kilkenny cause was clearly evident on a day which suggested that the back-up troops may be nowhere nearly as good as was generally thought.

Kilkenny brought on three subs, one of whom was veteran defender Michael Kavanagh, who did well, but certainly there was no influx of match-changing talent. Dublin made five changes -- some forced, some optional -- and were rewarded with crucial contribution from subs Maurice O'Brien, David Treacy and Simon Lambert.

All three scored in the late point rush, bringing to 10 the number of Dublin players who hit the target. Only four Kilkenny men -- including a defender and midfielder -- scored in what was the least effective attacking performance of the Brian Cody era.

Given what happened both in last year's All-Ireland final and yesterday, these are testing times for Kilkenny. The aura of invincibility which wrapped itself tightly around them in the four-in-a-row era is now gone, leaving them look far less intimidating for all opposition.

Already this season, Dublin have beaten them twice (they also won the Walsh Cup final) and drawn once, a sequence which few would have thought likely. But then Dublin had few backers at the start of the League, as their 66/1 title odds showed.

However, from the day they drew with Waterford in the first round of the League in February, it was clear that they were a driven force. The arrival of Conal Keaney and Ryan O'Dwyer made a huge difference in attack but all across the team there was a growing maturity which reached full bloom yesterday.

The sight of Dublin players winning possession in the tightest of exchanges, bursting clear and picking out colleagues with precision passes delighted their supporters, many of whom may have thought this day would never come. That Dublin finally won a title by beating Kilkenny so comprehensively made it all the more enjoyable.

And Kilkenny? More than ever, the medical bulletins on Shefflin, Walsh and Co will be watched very closely in the coming weeks.

Man of the Match: Ryan O'Dwyer (Dublin)

Scorers -- Dublin: P Ryan 0-9 (5f), C Keaney 0-3, R O'Dwyer, M O'Brien 0-2 each, D O'Callaghan, D Plunkett, C McCormack, J McCaffrey, D Treacy, S Lambert 0-1 each. Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-5 (5f), E Brennan 1-0, P Hogan (1f) M Rice 0-1 each.

Dublin -- G Maguire 7; N Corcoran 7, T Brady 8, P Kelly 7; J McCaffrey 7, J Boland 8, S Durkin 8; A McCrabbe 7, L Rushe 8; C McCormack 7, R O'Dwyer 9, C Keaney 8; D Plunkett 7, D O'Callaghan 7, P Ryan 8. Subs: M O'Brien 8 for Boland (44), D O'Dwyer 7 for Plunkett (55), D Treacy 7 for McCrabbe (63), S Lambert for Rushe (67), S Ryan for O'Callaghan (72).

Kilkenny -- D Herity 7; J Dalton 5, B Hogan 6, N Hickey 6; P Hogan 7, J Tyrrell 7, JJ Delaney 7; TJ Reid 6, M Rice 6; J Fitzpatrick 5, M Ruth 5, E Larkin 4; C Fennelly 6, E Brennan 6, R Hogan 5. Subs: M Kavanagh 7 for JJ Delaney (56), J Mulhall 6 for Fennelly (58), P Murphy for Ruth (65).

Ref -- M Wadding (Waterford).

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