Friday 15 December 2017

Cats' show of force has an ominous look

Cyril Farrell

KILKENNY delivered some emphatic answers to a few difficult questions at Croke Park and confirmed that the Cats are nowhere near being on their last life.

Yesterday's action was a complete about-turn from the league final. This time it was Kilkenny that dominated the physical exchanges and had the better first touch and the few changes they made in defence meant Dublin were never going to enjoy the freedom they did when the side's last met at HQ.

You sensed there was a big performance coming from Kilkenny. There were signs in their win over Wexford that they were coming into themselves and while they wouldn't really have minded who they played in yesterday's Leinster final, the fact that Dublin came through the other side of the draw would have helped to focus minds after a couple of defeats already this year.

And central to that reversal in fortunes was the presence of Tommy Walsh, Henry Shefflin and Richie Power this time around.

Walsh dismantled the aerial dominance Dublin had enjoyed in their win over Galway while Noel Hickey was rejuvenated and his presence in the full-back line meant the Dubs got little joy in and around the danger zone.

But it wasn't all about the old brigade. The young guns have also done their bit too. You'd have to be impressed with Colin Fennelly in attack and he took his goal well, while Paul Murphy has slipped into the rearguard nicely.

Of course, Dublin had some significant absentees. Ryan O'Dwyer's physical presence was missed in what was a hard-hitting match.

Joey Boland obviously needed a little more game time but I think you'll see a different player next time out, while Tomas Brady was also a loss at full-back.

Peter Kelly did all that could have been asked of him in the No 3 shirt but Kilkenny were in ruthless form and typically took almost every opportunity they were given. Liam Rushe never hit the heights of his performance against Galway but Dublin would need everyone to have a good shot off a Kilkenny team in that sort of form.

Kilkenny have a lengthy break now until their All-Ireland semi-final and that would normally be a concern for a less-experienced team but Brian Cody is a master at bringing his team to boil at just the right time and, with an All-Ireland final spot within touching distance, Kilkenny are going to be very hard to stop.

More than anyone else in the country, Galway were a team that delivered when they really needed to.

They were a completely different side from the one that lost to Dublin in their game against Clare on Saturday night. Joe Canning was superb but it was a much better all-round performance, with the six starting forwards and both midfielders getting on the scoresheet.

People will say that Clare are a Division Two team and that the standard of opposition wasn't as high as it could be but anyone close enough to the camp could have told you that this big performance was coming from John McIntyre's side.

Clare still managed 20 points but Galway were the much better side and with a little bit of confidence now, you could see them beating Cork in the next round.

And at the Gaelic Grounds, young Declan Hannon announced his arrival to the big stage in some style. Donal O'Grady has shown great faith in the younger players and they have repaid him handsomely.

The team seem to be buying into the shorter style of game that O'Grady has brought and after they were handed Antrim in the draw, you'd imagine they'll get another day out.

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