Kilkenny guided by Shefflin's hand of history
ON the day when Henry Shefflin became the highest scorer in hurling championship history, Kilkenny launched their attempt to become the first All-Ireland five-in-a-row champions with a mixture of trademark efficiency and uncharacteristic sloppiness.
The competence was manifested by their 4-19 return, backed by a defensive solidity which squeezed the life out of Dublin while the imprecision that was their shooting resulted in no fewer than 17 wides.
It would have been costly against better opposition but unfortunately for Dublin, they weren't sufficiently adept to exploit it. Their attack was overwhelmed by the Kilkenny defence, where wing-backs Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney were superb, providing consistent cover for a tight, vigilant inside line.
It was a problem Dublin never came close to solving as none of the forwards won their individual battles.
"Whoever we tried at wing-forward, we couldn't get on top of the two boys (Walsh and Delaney). We talked about it in advance and put Liam Ryan in there for that reason. In fairness, he did break a lot of ball but we didn't get on to it," said frustrated Dublin manager Anthony Daly.
Dublin's scoring stats tell a sad story of a muzzled attack. Six of their points came from frees, one from a '65' and two from half-backs which means that the starting six forwards managed just 0-3 between them.
Once again, Dublin failed to score a goal against Kilkenny and while it's difficult to dislodge the champions by any route, it's virtually impossible for a team with a poor goal-scoring record. It wasn't that Dublin didn't have goal chances. David O'Callaghan fired over the bar from a good position in the third minute; Liam Rushe hit the side-netting after a run along the end line in the 31st minute and sub Paul Ryan had a penalty saved in the 50th minute.
Ryan and Alan McCrabbe had efforts from frees blocked later on as Dublin's goal drought against Kilkenny, which has extended back to 1997, continued.
Kilkenny, on the other hand, scored four goals, the first two of which were crucial in forming the shape of the game. Eddie Brennan sprinted through after just 42 seconds, taking a pass from TJ Reid before beating Gary Maguire for a goal which gave Kilkenny an initiative they never lost.
Dublin stayed with them for the first half, helped by wayward shooting from Kilkenny. They shot 10 wides in the first half whereas Dublin hit just two, which was a fair indication of the possession differential. Kilkenny led by 1-10 to 0-8 at the interval and, as Daly remarked afterwards, it gave them hope that the game was still in their grasp because they hadn't really performed to their full capabilities.
"It was hard to believe we were only down five points at half-time. We went in at half-time and said if we hurled at all, we'd be in contention," he said.
Dublin needed to start the second half with a flourish but Kilkenny out-pointed them by three to two in the opening 13 minutes before they pounced for the goal that left the winning margin the only remaining issue. Richie Power hit the net with a superb strike and, from there to the finish, Kilkenny did as they wished.
They out-scored Dublin by 2-6 to 0-2 in the final 20 minutes, scoring 2-4 without reply in the final 10. There was nothing Dublin could do against opposition which looked as if it had more gears if the occasion demanded.
Brian Cody would have been unhappy with the conversion rate from the chances created, but then this was Kilkenny's first game in nine weeks.
However, there was still a lot of positive feedback for them to take into training for the Leinster final. Noel Hickey, whose career has been blighted by injury, will be delighted by his return to full-back. He was soundness personified from start to finish and with corner-backs John Dalton and Jackie Tyrrell also doing well, there were little scraps falling Dublin's way.
Walsh and Delaney caused Dublin more angst further out while midfielders Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly also did well. Henry Shefflin posted 12 points and, while only two came from open play, he was involved in quite a few others.
Cody replaced four of his starting forwards but with substitutes of the calibre of Eoin Larkin, John Mulhall, Aidan Fogarty and Derek Lyng, he knew the efficiency levels wouldn't drop. On the contrary, they actually increased with Fogarty, in particular, making a big impression, helping himself to two goals in the final minutes.
It added to the selection dilemmas facing Cody for the Leinster final but that's the type of problem he needs. That they could score 4-19 when their shooting was inconsistent underlines the sheer scale of the momentum they are capable of generating.
Unlike last year's Leinster final, when Dublin stayed with them all the way, eventually losing by six points, it was over in 50 minutes yesterday. Kilkenny were sharper to the breaks while the ball carrier always seemed to have support left and right, whereas Dublin were caught in possession far too often.
Dublin would still feel that there's more in them. However, they weren't able to match Kilkenny physically in terms of touch and timing.
Henry Shefflin took just 18 minutes to write himself into the record books by becoming the highest scorer in championship history. He started the day on 22-370, three points behind fellow Kilkenny man, Eddie Keher and hit a further 12 points to take him well clear. It's now only a question of how much daylight he puts between himself and Keher as he's likely to remain a central part of Kilkenny's plans for quite some time to come.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-12 (0-8f, 2 '65'), A Fogarty 2-0, E Brennan 1-1, R Power 1-0, TJ Reid, M Rice 0-2 each, R Hogan, M Comerford 0-1 each. Dublin: A McCrabbe 0-6 (0-6f), P Kelly 0-2, D O'Callaghan, J Boland, M O'Brien, J McCaffrey ('65') 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- PJ Ryan 7; J Dalton 7, N Hickey 8, J Tyrrell 7; T Walsh 9, B Hogan 7, JJ Delaney 8; M Rice 7, M Fennelly 7; M Comerford 6, R Hogan 6, H Shefflin 7; E Brennan 7, TJ Reid 7, R Power 6. Subs: E Larkin 7 for R Hogan (44), J Mulhall 7 for Reid (53), A Fogarty 8 for Brennan (53), D Lyng 7 for Power (64).
Dublin -- G Maguire 8; N Corcoran 6, T Brady 7, O Gough 6; S Hiney 5, J Boland 6, M O'Brien 5; J McCaffrey 5, S Durkin 5; L Rushe 6, L Ryan 6, P Kelly 5; D O'Callaghan 5, S Lambert 5, A McCrabbe 5. Subs: P Ryan 5 for Lambert (ht), M Carton 5 for O'Brien (44), D O'Dwyer 5 for Durkin (44), D Treacy 5 for O'Callaghan (51), K Flynn 5 for L Ryan (63).
Ref -- D Kirwan (Cork).