Daly rues bad day at office as Dublin lose without fight
Dogfight at the OK Canal? Not quite. That's what the gathering blue hurling hordes expected but, for the 69th time in all, and the 13th under the guise of the inestimable Brian Cody, Kilkenny paraded ceremoniously with the Bob O'Keeffe Cup.
Dublin, briefly, held the cup for a year, but yesterday they hurled as if apologetically deferential for having extended Kilkenny's two-year absence from the provincial plinth. It had been bad enough for the stripey men to see it carried aloft beyond the Shannon; two years is a famine in Leinster hurling terms for the Cats.
That they secured the retention of the crown in a game of predominantly below par intensity and skill, did not demur them from celebrating with whoops of joy at Barry Kelly's full-time whistle, which ended a strangely dormant volcano of an affair.
Dublin never exploded into life as one expected they might. They began limply as if uncertain as to their renewed status in hurling's revamped firmament; it was too late when they realised that the Cats were cruising to victory despite hurling like the merest of mortals.
Dublin may have shown up physically for the defence of the realm secured so vividly last summer; spiritually, they were emptied of belief from, it seemed, the initial flurries.
It was as if they conceded all moral authority from the outset, with their eccentrically contrived selection of an ill-served full-forward line and a dearth of ball winners out the field handing the challengers the early impetus.
Marooned in that curiosity of championship hurling that saw them under employed for much of the summer while their opponents hurled with fury in double jousts with Galway, their touch was poor and their option-taking even worse.
They lacked intensity. Kilkenny's key figureheads – Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid – were immense in absorbing central battle and in point scoring.
Dublin's potential giants were subdued, physically and mentally; all of Ryan O'Dwyer, the unfit Danny Sutcliffe and also seemingly unfit Conal Keaney were hauled ashore long before the final whistle.
And yet the game, which eased to a straight and true narrative for much of the piece, could have been skewed had Dublin rattled home two clear goal opportunities in the third quarter; that they missed both underlined their ineptitude.
They did not raise a flag from the 47th minute to the desolate end; it seemed the more they tried to stem the tide, the more ineffectively applied the measures to alleviate the stresses on their performance.
Kilkenny wallowed in the luxury of sending on, first, Henry Shefflin to waft over two decorative points; then Lester Ryan, their captain, to loft the jug above his joyful head.
Dublin didn't score from play until the 30th minute; true, they won an early penalty but from the only hopefully high ball that accrued profit.
A stronger currency was the driving run at the heart of the Kilkenny defence, from whence their goal derived when, after a rare success from an all too prevalent messy ruck ball, Colm Cronin rendered Jackie Tyrrell the proverbial oil tanker with a deft acceleration and a neater finish.
Tyrrell would not be discommoded again in this manner for the rest of the afternoon; indeed, he spent much of it in isolated splendour, bizarrely allowed the freedom to roam thanks to Dublin's ineffective tactical set-up.
The goal offered Dubs supporters false hope and the ill-advised tactic of the high ball bore little fruit against a dominant half-back line. The goal, in fact, accommodated renewed determination in the Cats.
Dublin were too often cowed; at one stage, Keaney foraged for a loose ball near the end line but found himself caromed between a wall of 12 Kilkenny legs; it was indicative of the prevailing fortunes of both sides.
Dublin's was an inexplicable fall from the highs of this tie last year. Anthony Daly motioned to Shane Martin before throw-in that all the best laid plans were in place. They were rent asunder within moments.
"Sometimes you can have tension-filled rooms and a performance comes out of nowhere," he mused. "Sometimes there's no tension and you don't perform. Sure you wouldn't win a minor match with that score. We all have bad days at the office, don't we?"
He was referring to talisman Keaney, but there were many others to whom that label could have been attached, including figures on the sideline who struggled to achieve the balance between application and analysis. "They're good lads and they've come back before when they've been down. We'll get back on the horse – we have the characters to have a lash at it."
Kilkenny will have eyes on reaching more familiar peaks having re-acquainted themselves with provincial pre-eminence. "We're very happy," noted Cody. "We were rocked by the goal, but we responded well and defended well. We weathered the storm. We were a long way from an All-Ireland last year, but we're back in a semi-final."
Dublin, offered the opportunity to undermine a dynasty, instead have allowed Kilkenny the opportunity to renew themselves.
That they did so without much of a fight will sting them in the regretful, waking nights to come.
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