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Kilkenny have every right to be confident despite Dublin's development

ESB LEINSTER MHC FINAL

KILKENNY v DUBLIN

(Croke Park, Tomorrow, 2.15)

DUBLIN'S minor hurlers face a difficult assignment when attempting to win their first provincial crown since 2007 when they face Kilkenny in the Leinster MHC Final at Croke Park.

The Dubs have bounced back well from their disappointing opening round loss (2-13 to 0-9) to the Cats in Nowlan Park nine weeks ago and narrow but battling wins over Carlow and Wexford have hinted at a gradual improvement in John Murphy's charges.

However, the daunting prospect of Kilkenny looms large with the Noresiders in impressive form last weekend as they brushed aside an Offaly challenge with relative ease, scoring 2-22 in the process.

Their side is backboned by the victorious All-Ireland Colleges St Kieran's team with six of the starting 15, including team captain Cillian Buckley, having attended the famous Kilkenny City hurling nursery.

In addition to Buckley, midfielder Ollie Walsh, Luke Harney and corner-forward John Power all started last year's All-Ireland defeat by Galway and this year's selection looks even stronger with the presence of full-back Willie Phelan and the talented Ger Aylward at full-forward.

Kilkenny's scoring prowess was highlighted last Sunday, as all six forwards and both midfielders contributed scores from play and their defence is equally effective, having conceded a meagre nine points (only three from play) to Dublin in their first round clash in early May.

That Dublin have developed from that meeting is beyond doubt and Murphy's faith in his charges is reflected by an unchanged starting 15 from last Saturday's nail-biting comeback against Wexford.



Troublesome

Emmet McKenna will continue in the troublesome full-back spot, having equipped himself well after a nervy opening last week while, in front of him, Danny Sutcliffe will hope to inspire through word and deed with his intelligent reading of the game and wonderful distribution from centre-back pivotal to Dublin's chances.

The midfield of Fergal Heavey and Naoise Maguire will need to improve on their mediocre displays of last week in addition to Dublin needing to take advantage of the aerial threat provided by both Aodhán Clabby and Glenn Whelan in their half-forward line.

It is the inside trio of John Hetherton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Dean Flood that offer Dublin's greatest hope, however, as they present a potent mix of strength, pace and scoring threat and dual star Kilkenny should be sharper again, given last Saturday's understandably rusty performance following a six-week absence through a broken thumb.

That Dublin have failed to register a goal from play in their three championship matches to date is a worrying trend from their perspective but the wide open spaces of Croke Park should offer them their best oppor-tunity of rectifying that damning statistic, which will be crucial to their chances of springing a surprise.

Dublin's upward curve of development and renewed confidence will be tested by a powerful Kilkenny side whose greater experience and spread of scorers should see the them retain their title by 5-6 points.

VERDICT: Kilkenny


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