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WHEN Dublin hurlers lift the Walsh Cup, it tends to be the prelude to something far more glorious, even historic, later in the year. Like an Allianz League title in 2011. Or a Leinster championship last summer.

Now for the good news: the Dubs are back in another Walsh Cup decider and they will host a familiar black-and-amber foe, Kilkenny, next weekend.

Cue the inevitable question, after yesterday's 1-15 to 1-14 victory over Wexford in Gorey, referencing the undeniable link between January joy and Croker coronations.

"I don't mention it, ye mention it!" Anthony Daly protested with a chuckle. And he's right, of course: such matters tend to consume laptop junkies far more than managers at this time of year.

 

GRAIN

Still, there's more than a grain of truth in the old adage about winning being habit-forming, and digging out victories (as Dublin did yesterday) can only benefit a team when the bar and the stakes are raised, starting with next month's league throw-in.

"I'd rather be winning," Daly stressed.

"There's no stage where we can be saying defeat is better than a victory.

"For us, victory is very important all the time," he added, describing the reward of a run-out against Kilkenny as a "great one to look forward to".

The Dublin boss said it was battle and that's precisely what it was. The pitch in Gorey had withstood the wretched weekend conditions quite well, but, even though the rain stayed away for most of the 70 minutes, this was still no day for top-of-the-ground hurling.

And, yet, both sides contributed to an energetic and relatively prolific first half, which ended with a wind-assisted Wexford deservedly ahead by 1-11 to 0-10.

The visitors had been playing catch-up from the fifth minute, when full-forward Rhys Clarke saw his first shot repelled by Gary Maguire but gratefully gobbled up the loose ball to goal on the rebound.

The high-fielding Shane Tomkins was proving a profitable source of puckout possession at wing-forward, Ian Byrne revealed an impressive free-taking radar, Diarmuid O'Keeffe sniped two points from midfield, and generally Wexford were that bit sharper in the 50-50 tussles.

But Dublin still managed to stay in relatively close pursuit, aided by first half braces from Ryan O'Dwyer and Éamonn Dillon, along with four converted frees by Paul Ryan.

"I still felt, coming out, that we needed a little bit more than four points with the breeze," Wexford boss Liam Dunne admitted afterwards.

So it proved, even if both sides had to work much harder for their scores on the resumption.

Almost nine minutes had elapsed before Dublin opened the second half scoring. Fittingly, the point came from Conal Keaney, whose third-quarter heroics turned this nip-and-tuck semi-final decisively in their favour.

His two points from play, sandwiching a Ryan free, had an inspiring quality that brought an audible response from the large visiting contingent. Then Keaney initiated the 51st minute move that led to Mark Schutte being fouled in 'Ryan country' – within 25 metres and right in front of the posts. Paul Ryan has never been shy about going for the jugular and he did so again; despite James Tonks' best attempts, the sliotar crept over the line and Dublin led by two.

Suddenly, as if jolted back to life, Wexford broke their second half duck and drew level with quick-fire points from Gary Moore and Paul Morris.

But then, in the 58th minute, Richie Kehoe walked for a second yellow (having tripped Keaney, who else?). Ryan exacted further retribution from the resultant free before doubling Dublin's lead while bringing his own deadball haul to 1-7.

A late Yellowbelly flurry threatened to force extra-time – and they might well have done so if Byrne had still been on the field. But in his absence, Morris fluffed a free after failing to lift the sliotar; then Clarke tapped over an injury-time free (instead of gambling for goal) before the clock ran out.

"Happy enough," Daly surmised.

"Today you wouldn't think there'd be any hurling on – leaving Clare, I wondered would the match go ahead.

"It was a tough battle. The wind was a factor and we felt there was a good chance with four in it. We probably still needed to get a goal so, in fairness to Ryaner, he got one and it was opportunistic."

The Dublin boss singled out Keaney's pivotal contribution, noting: "Conal really influenced it there for the first 10 to 20 minutes of the second half. He won a few great balls and set up a few scores."

Meanwhile, he continues to be impressed by Conor McCormack's reincarnation at centre-back.

"Very honest," Daly enthused.

"He works hard and he gives everything that's in the locker. Nice to have Liam (Rushe) in reserve, but you could play Conor anywhere. He played in goal for a while with 'Boden. He's a good hurler and he's brave to a fault."


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