Saturday 20 January 2018

Daly delight as Dubs blow title race wide open

Blues boss insists All-Ireland no longer a 'two-horse race' as his side record seismic victory over champions Kilkenny DUBLIN 1-16 KILKENNY 0-16

Dublin’s Stephen Hiney is one step ahead of Eoin Larkin during his team’s victory over Kilkenny in Portlaoise
Dublin’s Stephen Hiney is one step ahead of Eoin Larkin during his team’s victory over Kilkenny in Portlaoise


Anthony Daly baptised the waiting media with a grin but, when he spoke, he was solemn as someone stepping from a church service.

He dislikes journalism's taste for pigeon-holing these moments and seemed mindful that, in a room maybe 50 yards down the dressing-room tunnel, a lot of great men were probably keeping their anger warm. Dublin's first championship victory over Kilkenny since 1942 had been a glorious act of resistance, no more -- there was no big, silver canister to wave at passing cars, returning down the M7 with impatient news.

The story of Portlaoise on Saturday night was easy enough to parse. It was about Dublin's refusal to be numbed by the cliché of Kilkenny's impregnability in replays. In doing so, they took a psychological stride forward that hurling maybe has been waiting two years for them to take.

But lose to Galway on Sunday and, hard though it might be to swallow, they will feel they've been running just to stand still again. As the championship wheel quickens, life and death follow one another like drumbeats.

Yet, as dusk descended, O'Moore Park did bear a slightly ghostly feel. Certainly, the sight of Henry Shefflin -- hands in tracksuit pockets walking towards town -- summoned the jarring thought that Kilkenny could, conceivably, be just one more defeat away from ending perhaps the greatest inter-county career of all.

Brian Cody revealed that there was "not a hope" of Shefflin, Michael Fennelly or Paul Murphy featuring in Saturday's seismic qualifier against Tipperary in Nowlan Park. All of which leaves his men stripped to the very bone.

For they looked weary and careworn against a Dublin team that had their measure in the currencies that have long defined Cody's teams. Kilkenny simply could not match their opponents' selflessness and ferocity of will.

It was like seeing Little Red Riding Hood terrorise the wolf. If Paul Ryan had had a better day on placed balls, this game would have had no tumult, no climax. For the Ballyboden man was wide with four frees and two '65s' and also fluffed a glorious goalscoring opportunity on the stroke of half-time.

Ryan and 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan had been a two-man terror-squad in the opening exchanges, winning every ball thrown their way and -- invariably -- punishing their opponents with scores. O'Callaghan, particularly, had Conor Fogarty in all manner of trouble and had banked four from play before JJ Delaney was put on his case for the second half.

Yet, the decisive narrative was written at the other end of the field. For Kilkenny's selected attack would summon a scarcely credible 0-1 from play over 70 minutes. This was wipe-out on a molecular level.

Richie Power alone carried the fight from midfield, but his barnstorming runs through the middle were met by layers of blue resistance, with Liam Rushe particularly conspicuous at the barricades. A second yellow for Power with the game just over seemed almost cruel, given his lone defiance.

The Kilkenny forwards rotated endlessly in search of light, but even big Walter Walsh could not unsettle Rushe who -- often as not -- had John McCaffrey in close attendance for support. Dublin also used Danny Sutcliffe in a hugely effective free role, Kilkenny struggling to rein in his influence by simple dint of never quite figuring out his position.

Sublime stickwork from O'Callaghan in the second minute put Dublin ahead and, though TJ Reid replied almost instantly, Ryan's fourth-minute point gave Dublin a lead they would never relinquish.

The work ethic of their entire backline was pitched to such a temperature that not once could Kilkenny navigate a route to Gary Maguire's goal. And Cody was juggling his cards early, replacing an injured Cillian Buckley with Lester Ryan and Michael Rice with Colin Fennelly inside the opening half-hour.

The intensity of combat was soon scrubbing tensions on the line too, opposing selectors Ciaran Hetherton and Michael Dempsey momentarily squaring up to one another.

Dublin led 0-11 to 0-7 at the break, Cody putting his hands to his head as Lester Ryan spilled his side's sixth wide just seconds before Paul Ryan spurned that Dublin goal opportunity.

The loud hum of conversation rolling through the stand at half-time spoke of something monumental brewing. But this was Kilkenny. If there was the suspicion of a wake looming, people were still inclined to ask to see the death certificate.

Typically, Kilkenny would claim five of the next seven scores and, when an Eoin Larkin free reduced the margin to a single point with 18 minutes remaining, it was natural to fear for Dublin.

But, two minutes later, Mark Schutte's wonderful run set up O'Callaghan for a goal chance. Dotsy's deflected effort spooned up in an arc, Lester Ryan brilliantly flicking it one-handed off the goal-line, only for Sutcliffe to gather and fire low to the Kilkenny net. That was the kill-shot.

When it ended, Daly moved instantly towards Cody, the two men -- in the midst of bedlam -- reaching out in a respectful embrace.

So this eccentric hurling summer had taken yet another unimagined turn. "I suppose everyone came home from Nowlan Park on the night of the league final saying it's a two-horse race, maybe Galway," smiled Daly later. "But other teams have decided, 'We're going to have a go anyway and see how we get on'. Look it's far from over."

The basic, mysterious appeal of Cody's Kilkenny demands all hurling people understand that. For now, nobody should pre-suppose the depth of what they have left.

But the eyes of the old game will descend on Nowlan Park on Saturday with an electric intensity. Kilkenny-Tipp in early July clearly wasn't on anybody's pre-championship script. Cody smiled at his interrogators when that point was made.

"We didn't have any scripts to be honest," he said quietly. "The scripts were all yours, so ye'll have to revise them I suppose!"

No clay on the casket yet.

SCORERS -- Dublin: P Ryan 0-8 (6fs), D O'Callaghan 0-4, D Sutcliffe 1-0, C Keaney, M Schutte, S Durkin, E Dillon (f) 0-1 each. Kilkenny: E Larkin 0-11 (9fs, 2 '65s'), R Power 0-3, TJ Reid,C Fennelly 0-1 each.

DUBLIN -- G Maguire 7; N Corcoran 8, P Kelly 8, P Schutte 8; S Hiney 8, L Rushe 9, M Carton 8; J McCaffrey 6, J Boland 6; C Keaney 8, R O'Dwyer 6, D Sutcliffe 8; D O'Callaghan 9, D Treacy 6, P Ryan 7. Subs: C McCormack 7 for O'Dwyer (h-t), S Durkin 7 for Boland (46), M Schutte 8 for Treacy (49), E Dillon for Ryan (65), S Lambert for McCaffrey (69).

KILKENNY -- E Murphy 7; J Tyrrell 7, JJ Delaney 7, C Fogarty 6; T Walsh 8, B Hogan 6, K Joyce 8; C Buckley 6, R Power 8; R Hogan 6, M Rice 6, E Larkin 7; W Walsh 6, A Fogarty 7, TJ Reid 6. Subs: L Ryan 8 for Buckley (23), C Fennelly 7 for Rice (26), M Ruth 6 for W Walsh (60), P Walsh for Tyrrell (65), G Aylward for Reid (67).

Ref -- B Kelly (Westmeath)

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