Friday 19 January 2018

Boys in blue must raise green flag to see off Kilkenny

That's the remarkable goal differential, stretching back over 14 years, which the counties take into Sunday's Leinster hurling final.

When Dublin corner-forward, Gerry Ennis smashed home just before half-time in the 1997 Leinster semi-final, nobody would have predicted that 14 years and six games later they would be waiting for their next championship goal against Kilkenny.

However, that's the remarkable sequence which Kilkenny will be seeking to extend on Sunday while Dublin will be hoping that their new, exciting strike force will end an incredibly dry spell.

They have failed to score a goal against Kilkenny in 7hrs 36mins of championship action since Ennis beat Adrian Ronan -- the former attacker was back in goal for his final championship season -- to help Dublin to a five-point lead at half-time in the 1997 semi-final.

Kilkenny stormed back in the second half to win by seven points (2-20 to 2-13) and have since reeled off six successive championship wins without goalkeepers Joe Dermody, James McGarry and PJ Ryan once having to pick the ball out of their net.

In contrast, Kilkenny scored 20 goals in those games which were a major contributory factor in a string of victories. The general background has changed dramatically for Dublin over the last few years but the goal drought against Kilkenny has continued.

Dublin lost heavily to Kilkenny in last year's Leinster semi-final but made a significant breakthrough last month when winning the league final by 12 points. However, once again, they failed to score a goal, winning by 0-22 to 1-7 and drew another goal blank in their most championship recent outing when beating Galway by 0-19 to 2-7. In between, Dublin scored two goals against Offaly with Paul Ryan (penalty) and Peadar Carton on target.

Goalscoring in the championship has been a problem for Dublin for quite some time. They drew blanks against Laois, Kilkenny and Antrim last year, scoring two goals against Clare. In 2009, they scored two against Antrim in the Leinster quarter-final but none against Wexford or Kilkenny before managing one against Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

However, their goal rate improved in this year's league where they scored 10 -- only Kilkenny and Galway got more -- in seven games before winning the final via the points route.

Despite their league final success, it's unlikely Dublin will beat Kilkenny on Sunday without scoring a goal. The last county to achieve that was Cork when they won the 2004 All-Ireland final on a 0-17 to 0-9 scoreline.

Martin Breheny

Irish Independent

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