LEINSTER SHC SEMI-FINAL REPLAY
KILKENNY v DUBLIN
(Portlaoise, Tonight, 7.0)
STOP us if this doesn't strike you as weird.
Last Sunday, Kilkenny – the all-singing, all-dancing, greatest hurling team of all time, scraped a draw against Dublin; a good team definitely, but perhaps one which looked to have stagnated over the past 18 months or so.
Certainly not a team which had breathed such rarefied air in some time.
Yet most of the hurling talk this week was about the Munster semi-final and – shock, horror – Cork beating Clare.
There is an unsaid feeling about this replay in Portlaoise today, an expectancy that the laws of hurling will kick in and Kilkenny will put this minor inconvenience behind them and qualify for the Leinster final by beating Dublin at the second attempt.
Which may well happen. Dublin supporters (and there should be quite a few more in O'Moore Park today than travelled last weekend) should be comforted though by the fact that those who matter, Anthony Daly, his management team and his players, won't be afflicted by such expectations.
The only people in Ireland last week not remotely surprised or shocked by the result were Dublin themselves, who seemed to have cracked the whole 'controlling the controllables' line this year, muting any outside voices or distractions.
For everyone else, the fact that Kilkenny needed TJ Reid's last-second point to keep their hopes alive of regaining the Leinster title they last won in 2011 was quite the jolt to the senses because a) Kilkenny are Kilkenny b) Dublin are Dublin and c) the latter had struggled to put Wexford away on successive weekends beforehand.
"I don't think we got any bit of credit for the improvement the week between the two games ... like, we beat Wexford by eight points," said Daly, in conversation with The Herald this week, a slightly sore point with him after the win in Parnell Park but not, it must be said, a prompt for gloating after last week's draw with greatness.
"What do lads want? Would they have gone home from Parnell if we'd have won by 11? Just say we'd have gotten another goal – and we had a few chances with Paul Ryan shaving the post there at the end – would that have been good enough? Would they have been saying: 'Yeah, that's a good beating now. That's fine.'
"People seem to have their own standards on that type of stuff. We were kind of happy with the performance. We know we played poor the first night but, like that again, did people really think we were going to walk into Wexford Park and that Wexford would lay down?"
Which goes some of the way to explaining the improvement in a week. Dublin did what they had to in Parnell Park. No more. And last week, they almost did the same, without – by Daly's measurement anyway – scaling the absolute heights of their game.
They need 70 minutes of peak hurling today though, because Kilkenny will improve from last week. Bar Walter Walsh, Brian Hogan and, at times, Eoin Larkin, it was hard to pick out a good Kilkenny performance, partly because of the pressure under which Dublin put them. But such a thinly spread malaise is unlikely to transpire on successive weekends.
Jackie Tyrrell, surely, will bring a bit more stability at the back, while Reid should be more alert and dangerous than any number of Kilkenny forwards last weekend.
Dublin, meanwhile, had most of their players hitting standards in and around their best, particularly after Dotsy O'Callaghan began winning ball and bringing their midfield and half-forward line into the game.
It will take heroics from the likes of Peter Kelly, Liam Rushe and Paul Schutte again to keep Dublin tight.
"You can't underestimate the value of those matches," Daly added. "It's probably not easy to quantify – you can talk about it – but it's not easy to put a value on how much they bring on fellas as opposed to training. It's very real.
"Form can be funny.
"Everyone was telling us we had to take Conal (Keaney) out of centre-back and put him in the forwards and then Liam struggled a bit in the replay but Liam had a good game last Sunday. You're as good your last game.
"But it's all gone now. It's all about what happens now on the day again."
Truly, we wouldn't be surprised if anything – anything – happened in Portlaoise today. But on the basis that Kilkenny have more to improve than Dublin, and have a proven track record of doing so in between draws and replays in the past, we'll go with them.
ODDS: Kilkenny 1/8, Draw 14/1, Dublin 6/1