Keaney tilts balance Dubs' way on day of graft and grit
DUBLIN 1-15 WEXFORD 1-14
Walsh Cup Semi-final: Conal Keaney once more proved his importance to the Dublin hurlers as Anthony Daly's men emerged from Gorey with a place secured in the final against Kilkenny.
The 31-year-old Ballyboden St Enda's clubman quietly but firmly took the trend of play by the proverbial scruff of the neck early in the second half and tilted the balance in favour of the Dubs.
Keaney, voted the 2013 club hurler of the year in the annual awards scheme sponsored by Dublin Bus and our sister paper 'The Herald', helped turn a four-point half-time deficit into a narrow win.
Management and motivational gurus are always looking for 'added value' contributions from employees and clients, and that's a box that Keaney definitely ticks when he's wearing the blue jersey.
Manager Anthony Daly highlighted the Ballyboden player's contribution, saying: "Conal, I thought, really influenced it there for the first 10 to 20 minutes of the second half. He won a few great balls and set up a few scores.
"It was a tough battle and it's great to have a match with Kilkenny to look forward to at the end of the week.
"We're the holders of the Walsh Cup and we'd like to hold on to it."
The final was fixed for Sunday at Parnell Park, but now Dublin have an added bonus as the Walsh Cup decider will be played as a curtain-raiser on Saturday night at Croke Park (5.0) to the Dublin v Kerry Allianz Football League opener.
As for the semi-final, it was a typical Walsh Cup January fixture played in cold conditions on a very playable but greasy surface.
Taken in context, however, and with memories of last summer's fiery championship jousts between these teams still fresh, both sides were as serious about the game as any team can be at this time of year.
Wexford certainly started with a clear intention to deny Dublin any further progress in the competition. They got early momentum when Rhys Clarke showed great resolve in bearing down on the Dublin goal after just five minutes.
Clarke looked to have lost his chance as defenders closed in, but the Wexford man steadied himself, and blasted the sliotar past Dublin 'keeper Gary Maguire.
Ian Byrne did well to score 0-6 in the first half, five of them from frees, as Wexford steadily worked towards their eventual half-time tally of 1-11. Conal Keaney roamed between the full-forward and half-forward line, but didn't get much traction from a hard-working home defensive set-up dominated by Keith Rossiter and Lee Chin.
The Dubs took some time to settle into the game as Wexford, aided by the strong breeze, had the better of the early exchanges.
It was a day for graft and grit, and Dublin had plenty of those attributes, as exemplified by Joey Boland, Conor McCormack, Ryan O'Dwyer, Shane Durkin, Eamonn Dillon, and Paul Ryan.
Ryan scored four points, all from frees, and O'Dwyer and Dillon got two each, with Mark Schutte and Robbie Mahon the other contributors to Dublin's half-time tally of 0-10.
Four points down, with the wind at their backs for the second half, it was not an insurmountable deficit, so we expected a fiery start by both sides to the second half.
Instead, the game became scrappy. Neither team could find any fluency for almost ten minutes, but then Keaney, now out around midfield, took control. On 44 minutes, he rocketed over a point; a minute later, he was involved in the move that led to a free from which Ryan scored another point.
Keaney powered over a spectacular score from 60 yards in the 49th minute and, two minutes later, again had a role in the move that gave Ryan another free.
Wexford still hadn't scored at that stage, and Ryan shot for goal.
The sliotar went in low and hard, and skipped off the surface, then clipping James Tonks' hurley, with just enough momentum left to roll over the line. That put the Dubs 1-13 to 1-11 ahead. Within another couple of minutes Wexford's Gary Moore and Paul Morris had the sides level again.
Wexford's cause wasn't helped by the 57th-minute dismissal of Richie Kehoe for a second yellow-card offence, and the home side only had two more points left in them.
Playing with 14 men probably shaded the issue against Wexford, although they battled hard to the finish. Ryan's accuracy from frees gave the Dubs a two-point cushion and a 71st-minute score by Clarke from a free was too little, too late for Wexford.
Model County boss Liam Dunne was not too worried about the outcome, much as he would have liked to put one over on Dublin.
"I'm well pleased. We were down a man with about 15 minutes to go and lost by a point, so we got as much out of the Walsh Cup as we wanted. We know where we are. The good thing for the players is they're not happy enough to be just competing with the likes of Dublin – they want to be beating them. And we're not too far off of that."
Scorers – Dublin: P Ryan 1-7 (7fs); R O'Dwyer, E Dillon, C Keaney 0-2 each; M Schutte, R Mahon 0-1 each.
Wexford: I Byrne 0-6 (5fs); R Clarke 1-1 (f); D O'Keeffe, P Morris 0-2 each ; A Shore, S Tomkins, G Moore, 0-1 each.
Dublin – G Maguire; S Timlin, P Kelly, J Doughan; J Boland, C McCormack, M McCaffrey; S Durkin, M Quilty; R Mahon, R O'Dwyer, C Keaney; M Schutte, P Ryan, E Dillon. Subs: C Crummy for M McCaffrey (h-t); C Cronin for R Mahon (55); P Winters for E Dillon (65).
Wexford – M Fanning; J Tonks, K Rossiter, C Kenny; A Shore, L Chin, R Kehoe; B Jordan, D O'Keeffe; S Tomkins, P Morris, I Byrne; G Moore, R Clarke, K Foley. Subs: H Kehoe for B Jordan (h-t); C O'Shaughnessy for J Tonks (54); R Jacob for K Foley (58); C Devitt for I Byrne (62).
Ref – J Keenan (Wicklow)