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Keaney can turn Dubs into title force

CONVENTIONAL wisdom decreed that by switching allegiance from football to hurling, Conal Keaney had seriously diminished his prospects of winning an All-Ireland medal, but who knows?

Could it be that the addition of his impressive range of skills to the attack will be the catalyst that advances Dublin hurling from the work-in-progress category to a stage where they really are ready to challenge the superpowers on a consistent basis in the championship?

Keaney potted 14 points at Croke Park on Saturday (four from open play) as Dublin pumped more ambition into their tanks with a confidence-building success over the All-Ireland champions. His accuracy from placed balls, plus his ball-winning and carrying talents, comprise an impressive package that is likely to grow even more influential as the season progresses.

"Sure why do you think we were going off to meet him three times a year?" asked manager Anthony Daly in reference to his attempt to woo Keaney over for the past few seasons.

"You'd see him in the club championship and he'd be probably the best forward in the county. He's a great addition to us," added Daly with the contented look of a man who had picked up a big star on a free transfer.

Ryan O'Dwyer could emerge as a real find too. The Tipperary man came on as a sub after 30 minutes and while he drew an amount of friendly -- and not so friendly -- fire from his county men, he made a decent impact.

There's no doubt that the addition of Keaney and O'Dwyer has increased Dublin's attacking options. David O'Callaghan and Liam Rushe also did well, the latter winning several frees which Keaney pointed, the former securing good ball and running at the Tipperary defence.

For all that, it will be matter of some concern for Daly that, Keaney apart, the remainder of the Dublin attack scored just 1-1 from open play between them.

They can argue that their tally would have been higher if Tipperary hadn't fouled so much, but what happens on a day when they come up against a more disciplined defence?

Offering so many deal-ball opportunities to a sniper like Keaney was a significant minus on Tipperary's rating card, but then they had done the same against Kilkenny a week earlier, presenting Richie Hogan with eight points.

It's clearly an aspect that Declan Ryan will have to investigate as Tipperary now head into a high-phase where one more defeat would definitely rule them out of league title contention. Even as it is, they are outsiders to reach the final.

Any thoughts, Declan? He smiles before tossing in a mischievous aside.

"Am I allowed comment on referees? No! Yeah, it's (conceding frees) something we looked at from the last game and we'll have to look at it again. That's too much to be giving away, there's no doubt about that," he said.

Tipperary lined out with eight of last year's All-Ireland final starting team. They started well enough and led by 0-4 to 0-2 after eight minutes, before Dublin settled into a powerful rhythm. A goal by Declan O'Dwyer in the 14th minute gave them momentum and the remainder of the half produced some excellent scores.

A point by Keaney in the 27th minute after a driving run at the defence lifted his colleagues, but the Dubs were stunned a minute later when John O'Neill made room for himself on the edge of the square before driving the ball to the net.

O'Neill built on the promise shown a week earlier, scoring 1-2 from open play. His goal put Tipp a point ahead, but Dublin finished the half strongly to lead 1-10 to 1-9 at the interval.

They extended the lead to four points in the third quarter -- indeed, it should have been greater but they missed some good chances, as a tally of 11 second-half wides testifies.

It looked as though Tipp would punish Dublin's misses when they scored four unanswered points -- the fourth coming from sub Eoin Kelly -- to draw level after 57 minutes. There was a time when Dublin might have wilted over the closing stages against such high-profile opponents, but not anymore.

Keaney angled over a spectacular point and while Pa Bourke, Tipperary top scorer on seven points, equalised again, Keaney's pointed free in the 62nd minute proved the tie-breaker. Both sides had chances -- Dublin more than Tipperary -- in the closing minutes, but neither hit the target again.

While Daly was delighted with a win, six days after drawing with Waterford, he was keen to put things in context. As often happens with All-Ireland champions, Tipperary are a little behind their rivals in terms of early-season conditioning.

"I know from my own days, how hard it is to get your head down after winning the All-Ireland. I remember one day a fella saying after a league match that we (the Clare half-back line) were like Young Munster's front row. Tipp will be a lot different later on," he said.

They would need to be. "There are no easy games in this league and I suppose that Tipperary are a scalp for everyone. We have a lot of work to do, that's for sure," said Declan Ryan.

Man of the match -- Conal Keaney (Dublin).

Scorers -- Dublin: C Keaney 0-14 (9f, 1 '65'), D O'Dwyer 1-0, J Boland, L Rushe 0-1 each. Tipperary: P Bourke 0-7 (2f, 1 '65', 1 s-l), J O'Neill 1-2, S McGrath 0-2, B Maher (f), B O'Meara, E Kelly, M Gleeson 0-1 each.

Dublin -- G Maguire 7; R Treanor 6, T Brady 7, P Kelly 7; S Hiney 7, J Boland 7, S Durkin 7; J McCaffrey 7, S Ryan 5; C Keaney 9, D O'Dwyer 7, C McCormack 6; D O'Callaghan 7, L Rushe 7, P Carton 6. Subs: R O'Dwyer 7 for Ryan (30), P Ryan 7 for McCormack (47), D Plunkett 7 for D O'Dwyer (52), L Ryan 6 for Carton (58).

Tipperary -- D Gleeson 8; P Stapleton 7, P Curran 6, M Cahill 6; D Young 6, Padraic Maher 7, B Maher 7; M Gleeson 6, S McGrath 7; G Ryan 6, P Bourke 8, Patrick Maher 6; J O'Neill 8, P Fanning 5, S Carey 5. Subs: B O'Meara 7 for Fanning (h-t), E Kelly 7 for Carey (51), B Dunne 6 for Gleeson (55), J Woodlock 6 for Ryan (61).

Ref -- J Sexton (Cork).

Irish Independent