Drained Dubs succumb to relentless Kilkenny
Kilkenny 1-24 Dublin 3-16
Pat Gilroy settles on a spot no more than a yard inside the tiny committee room, declining the offer of a chair.
"Be quicker" he suggests hopefully. Outside, a gentle, exhausted ennui has settled across Parnell Park. Kids puck balls to one another, their parents standing sentry, many too pre-occupied to talk. Kilkenny have delivered a story as old as the druids here, you see. Winning a game that sent things scampering up and down the spine.
Winning it by a grain of sand.
We could forgive Gilroy being a little over-tired and melodramatic now, but that's just not how he was reared over the road in Marino. He smiles a murmur of a smile. "We were very confident coming in for this game" he says evenly. "It was a great effort from the team, I couldn't fault anybody."
Yet, a contest Dublin never trailed in from the third minute to the 75th was snatched from them in the dying, frazzled seconds. Taken from them by a broadly young Kilkenny team that came charging like so many Kilkenny teams of old. It's what they do. The faces change, the implacability doesn't.
Donnycarney had no welcome mat out, we knew it wouldn't. The little stadium was just a boom box of prejudice, the press of bodies so close to the tramlines spinning a raucous intimacy designed to reach inside fragile rib cages. And Gilroy's decision to pick a physical team ran in perfect harmony with that acoustic.
Kilkenny took 26 minutes to register a score from play. They were being barged and coursed and, on occasion, bullied. In Liam Rushe, Dublin had a full-forward who made sure that Gilroy's deployment of a sweeper never looked restrictive.
Rushe was unplayable, irrespective of how many bodies Brian Cody put in his precinct. Directly behind him, Conal Keaney summoned a rebuke to those who consider 35-year-old inter-county hurlers to be in need of protection from themselves.
The Ballyboden man knifed 0-4 from play and there's no doubting that his departure with a collarbone injury ten minutes from the end of normal time did seem to corrupt Dublin's attacking structure. Many Dubs looked out on their feet in the closing flurries, Kilkenny out-scoring them by 1-5 to 0-1 from the 62nd minute to the close.
Yet, that Kilkenny goal was contentious too, albeit marvellously despatched by substitute Liam Blanchfield. It came two minutes into injury-time, Eoin Murphy's fourth long-range free of the day having drawn the Cats to within a single point of their hosts.
Cian O'Callaghan came galloping out the right side of the Dublin defence only to lose possession to what looked a push in the back. And, in an eye-blink, Blanchfield was torquing goalward, surviving a blatant attempt at a foot-trip and improvising smartly to bat the ball past Alan Nolan in the Dublin goal. That then was the day's kill-shot.
Had Gilroy seen a push? "Extraordinary!" was his only observation.
To be fair to Kilkenny, just about any other opponent would have fallen to Dublin's windmills. Just three minutes had elapsed when Rushe's soaring catch, turn and offload set up Paul Ryan for Dublin's opening goal.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, he was back causing mayhem again, Kilkenny swarming him like Lilliputians around Gulliver when, after Ryan had a shot saved, Fergal Whitely found the net with a sublime first-time pull.
If anything, the Dubs should have been further than four points up at the midpoint, albeit Nolan making what looked a miraculous, point-blank save from Ger Aylward after a bullocking run down the right flank by Walter Walsh set up the opportunity.
Just when Kilkenny looked to be coming to grips with the game after points from Donnelly, James Maher and big Walter is as many minutes, they took another haymaker. This came in the 45th minute, Jake Malone forcing the ball home after Rushe had again thrown his jailers into virtual meltdown.
For Cody, this was a full-blown crisis now.
"Look every time they got a goal it was another nail in our coffin" he agreed later. "But it's a game where you just have to keep going."
Even the grasshoppers seemed hell-bent on spooking them now, TJ reaching low to a perfectly-weighted Aylward pass only for the sliotar to slip through a hole in his fingers, Cody's head in his hands. But it isn't the manager's way to overheat and, in this instance, neither did his team.
A Paul Winters free brought Dublin back to within a point immediately after the Blanchfield goal and, when big Walter then had a point disallowed for having a foot in touch right next to where Cody stood, you could only admire the linesman's nerve.
But, no matter. Tired and callused bodies were struggling in blue now and it was Bill O'Carroll who made the last-second foul that gave TJ the chance to close it out. Which he duly did.
Scorers: Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-12 (0-9 fs, 0-2 65s), E Murphy 0-4 (frees), C Fennelly 0-3, L Blanchfield 1-0, J Maher and W Walsh 0-2 each, J Donnelly 0-1. Dublin: P Ryan 1-6 (0-5 fs), C Keaney 0-4, F Whitely and J Malone 1-0 each, P Winters 0-3 (0-2 fs), C Crummy, T Connolly and F McGibb 0-1 each.
Kilkenny - E Murphy 8, J Holden 7, P Walsh 6, P Deegan 7, C Delaney 7, C Buckley 7, E Morrissey 6, R Leahy 7, J Maher 8, M Keoghan 6, TJ Reid 8, J Donnelly 7, B Sheehan 6, W Walsh 8, G Aylward 6. Subs: C Fennelly 8 for Sheehan (33 mins), C Fogarty 7 for Keoghan (half-time), P Murphy 8 for Morrissey (45 mins), L Blanchfield 7 for Leahy (54 mins), L Scanlon 6 for Aylward (59 mins).
Dublin - A Nolan 8, P Smyth 7, C O'Callaghan 7, B O'Carroll 7, C Cummy 8, S Moran 7, S Barrett 7, R McBride 6, E O'Donnell 7, J Malone 6, C Keaney 8, D Sutcliffe 6, F Whitely 7, L Rushe 9, P Ryan 7. Subs: P Winters 8 for Ryan (46 mins), F McGibb 7 for Whitely (49 mins), T Connolly 7 for McBride (52 mins), R O'Dwyer 6 for Keaney (60 mins), S Durkin (no rating) for Malone (66 mins).
Ref- D Kirwan (Cork).