Kilkenny 1-25 Dublin 0-19
Kilkenny hurlers chalked up Leinster title number 73 at Croke Park as Dublin’s chances were severely hit by a Covid-19 case which left them without two first-team players and two replacements.
It was the first time since 2015-2016 that the Cats have won back-to-back provincial titles and brings Brian Cody's personal tally of provincial wins as a manager to a remarkable 17.
Surely now, any talk of his departure from the job is entirely superfluous though Kilkenny’s first half performance was far from a vintage one.
Even though Dublin had sensationally knocked out Galway in the semi-final, whereas Kilkenny had to depend on all their survival techniques before overwhelming Wexford in the second half of extra-time, the result was hardly a surprise.
But Dublin will wonder how they would have fared had they been able to field a full-strength side.
Kilkenny have beaten Dublin in their last ten Leinster final meetings stretching back nearly eight decades. Dublin did beat the Cats on their way to winning the Bob O’Keeffe Cup in 2013 but their last final win over the Cats was achieved in 1942.
Of course, Mattie Kenny’s side are still in the hunt for the Liam MacCarthy Cup and will enter the race at the last-eight stage but their prospects now hinge on whether they can field a full-strength team in the quarter-final.
Meanwhile. Kilkenny are through to their 20th All-Ireland semi-final since Cody took charge and nobody will fancy facing them in the last four.
Dublin was rocked before the game when first choice players Cian O’Callaghan and Ronan Hayes were ruled out as were substitutes Fergal Whitely and Oisin O’Rorke. While it was not officially confirmed it is understood there was a positive Covid-19 case in the squad with a number of close contacts.
When Dublin and Kilkenny met in the Leinster final one hundred years ago, Michael Collins threw in the ball to start the Croke Park encounter which produced just 14 scores and a Dublin win.
Against the background of the political turbulence in the country at the time the 1921 All-Ireland did not take place until 1923 when Limerick became the first ever winner of the Liam MacCarthy Cup defeating Dublin.
A century later a different kind of turbulence is impacting the country, but some things never change. This was Kilkenny’s 18th provincial final appearance since the turn of the century.
It was a surprise to see Dublin full-back Eoghan O’Donnell starting the game after he appeared to suffer a hamstring injury in the dying minutes of the semi-final just two weeks ago.
But he only lasted three minutes before being forced to limp off in what was another body blow to the challengers who fell 0-4 to 0-0 behind after six minutes.
But two excellent points from Danny Sutcliffe and the ability of the Dublin half backline augmented to disrupt the Kilkenny puck-outs steadied the ship. And as the first water break the margin was down to two (0-6 to 0-4) as Dublin’s tenacity stood out.
Though they continued to trail on the scoreboard Dublin visibly grew in confidence as the half progressed.
Although they were guilty of the occasional unforced error, they kept a tight rein on a largely ineffective Kilkenny attack. But Dublin was guilty of squandering chances at the other end with Donal Burke failing to convert a couple of places balls while Chris Crummey squandered a decent goal chance.
But the wing forward made amends hitting a brace of wonderful points to give Dublin a deserved share of the spoils (0-9 each) after 33 minutes.
TJ Reid was mostly operating in the middle third, but the Cats did reel off the last three points of an entertaining first half to lead at the break (0-12; 0-9).
However, Dublin might have had a penalty in injury time when Tommy Walsh looked to have impeded Cian Boland but the referee waved play on and the corner-forward’s final effort went the wrong side of the post.
A melee developed two minutes into the second half with Kilkenny replacement Alan Murphy losing his helmet.
After consulting with the linesman, the referee was content to throw in the ball and re-start the game. Gradually, Kilkenny turned the screw despite the heroics of Liam Rushe and Danny Sutcliffe.
Kilkenny’s strength in depth was crucial as well as the Cats were able to introduce experienced due Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh before the end of the third quarters.
Errors started to creed into the Dublin play as evident by the fact that two unforced errors handed Kilkenny a brace of point to give Kilkenny a seven point lead (0-19; 0-12) at the second half water break.
Any remote chance of a Dublin revival ended ten minutes from the end when Dublin substitute Jake Malone was sinned binned for hauling down impressive second half substitute Alan Murphy and TJ Reid blasted the resultant penalty to the net.
The contest then wound down to its inevitable conclusion. Though it was hardly a vintage Kilkenny performance they still outscored their opponents 1-13 to 0-10 in the second half.
Just over half the 18,000 Covid-19 allowed attendance turned for the first provincial final decider between the sides since 2019.
A minute’s silence was observed in memory of the Monaghan U-20 football captain Brendan Og Duffy, who died in a car crash after captaining the county to an Ulster championship win over Donegal on Friday night
GAA President Larry McCarthy extended the Association’s sympathy to the Duffy family and his club Monaghan Harps before presenting the Joe McDonagh Cup to the Westmeath hurling captain Cormac Boyle.
Scorers - Dublin: D Burke 0-10 (8f), D Sutcliffe, C Crummey 0-2 each, C Boland, A Nolan(1f), R McBride, J Malone, D Keogh 0-1 each. Kilkenny: TJ Reid 1-10 (8f, 1 65), J Maher 0-3, A Mullen, A Murphy J Bergin, M Keoghan 0-2 each, E Cody, C Buckley 0-1, J Bergin 0-1, M Carey 0-1.
Dublin: A Nolan; P Smyth, E O’Donnell, A Dunphy; D Gray, L Rushe, J Madden; R McBride, C Burke, D Sutcliffe, C Crummey, D Burke, C Boland, M Schutte, C O’Sullivan. Subs: S Moran for O’Donnell (4), P Crummey for Schutte (ht), J Malone for Moran (51), J Malone for O’Sullivan (53), D Treacy for Boland (70).
Kilkenny: E Murphy; T Walsh, H Lawlor, P Deegan; J Maher, P Walsh, C Browne; R Reid, A Mullen; J Donnelly, M Keoghan, B Ryan, E Cody, TJ Reid, R Leahy. Subs: M Carey for Browne (25), A Murphy for Leahy (ht), C Buckley for R Reid (47), W Walsh for Ryan (48).
Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick).