Kilkenny send out warning
SO, what makes Kilkenny so different? It's a puzzle that the rest of the hurling world has struggled to solve for a long time, but you get a glimpse into the rarefied world of their relentless ambition in an answer to a question posed to Richie Power after Saturday's win over Dublin in Portlaoise. Asked if he had any concerns about going into such a high-octane encounter without having done much competitive hurling recently, due to injury, Power turned a negative into a positive.
"After picking up the injury in the club game, I didn't get to train as much as I would have liked but in another way I was fresh," said Power.
"That can be a good thing, too. Same for Henry (Shefflin). After all the hard work he has put in for the last six months, he was raring to go," said Power.
So, too, were all their team-mates who had a place in the Leinster final booked long before half-time in a game that never came remotely close to living up to the long-held view that it could be one of the classics of Championship 2012.
Ever since the draws were made last October, Dublin had targeted the clash with Kilkenny as a defining stage post on their drive to the summit.
Even their failure to win even one of seven league games wasn't regarded as a significant setback to a plan which had Saturday's game at the centre of everything. That was bad judgment by the commentating classes.
Defeat, however unlucky it might have been on some occasions, tends to become a habit and, while Dublin lost a few league games -- including the high-scoring shoot-out with Kilkenny -- by a point, the reality was that their loss column continued to mount up.
Kilkenny, meanwhile, were conducting their business with trademark efficiency, winning the league and leaving no doubts about their ambition levels.
Still, when they were forced to line-out without Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice, a powerful duo who produced so much efficiency in the middle third of the field over recent years, it appeared to give Dublin a genuine chance of making progress.
Not so. Cillian Buckley and Paddy Hogan out-hurled various opponents at midfield, while the seasoned campaigners behind and in front of them exerted so much control that Dublin were made to look like intermediate hurlers who had wandered into the wrong competition.
JJ Delaney, who took control against Liam Rushe right from the start, and Brian Hogan sealed the centre of the Kilkenny defence, forcing Dublin to go wide, where, apart from Danny Sutcliffe, they made no progress either.
At the other end, Richie Hogan, Richie Power and TJ Reid were beating their markers, while Henry Shefflin, back for his first game since last year's All-Ireland final, played himself gradually into the game. He scored 0-10 (all from placed balls) to move past the 500 points mark in his 57th successive championship game.
He shot a few wides, too, but, no doubt, those little glitches will be sorted out by the time he lines out against Galway next Sunday week.
Yet, for all Kilkenny's undoubted excellence, it doesn't explain why Dublin were so sloppy. On a rainy, windy evening, mistakes were to be expected, but not to the degree perpetrated by Dublin.
Basic skills such as catching, passing and striking became big chores for Dublin, leaving Anthony Daly perplexed as to why there had been such a difference between their work on the training ground and in real action.
"There was no indication in training that our hurling would be that poor. I know Laois weren't good in the first round, but we put good moves together and did well on the ball.
"Not today though, The warm-up looked very good -- fellas' first touches were great, but not when it came to the actual game," said Daly.
And yet, it looked promising enough for Dublin early on, especially after Sutcliffe had danced past three tacklers, raced down the sideline and angled over a smashing point to open up a two-point lead in the eighth minute.
Dublin, who were playing with the wind, needed to build on that, but once Kilkenny fitted the stabilisers, the pattern changed dramatically and they were soon out of sight.
Reid's 17th minute goal, a beautifully constructed effort which also involved Power, put Kilkenny a goal clear and, from there on, they outscored Dublin by 1-18 to 0-6.
Power scored Kilkenny's second goal in the 27th minute and by half-time they were 10 points ahead (2-10 to 0-6).
Dublin had lost Conal Keaney with a hamstring injury after 15 minutes and withdrew Niall Corcoran and Conor McCormack before half-time -- proof positive that their game-plan was seriously malfunctioning.
The repair work continued at the start of the second half when Ross O'Carroll was brought in and, by the 50th minute, Dublin had used all five substitutes.
It was around then that Brian Cody began his adjustments, leisurely wheeling out his subs to give as many players as possible some championship action.
Kilkenny won the second half, 0-11 to 0-3, while showing all the signs that they could have raised their game several notches if the occasion demanded.
Indeed, were it not for some splendid saves from Dublin goalkeeper, Gary Maguire, Kilkenny's winning margin would have been a whole lot higher.
"You have to hand it to Kilkenny. They were great. But then they do it most days, whether it's warm or wet, Croke Park or Portlaoise. They deliver consistently," said Daly.
Galway manager Anthony Cunningham was among the crowd and, will no doubt, have spent the journey home trying to work out ways of counteracting Kilkenny's many weapons of mass destruction.
It's quite a task because, as Dublin discovered on Saturday, Kilkenny's artillery range seems to be increasing all the time.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-10 (9f, 1'65'), R Power 1-3, TJ Reid 1-2, R Hogan, P Hogan, E Larkin 0-2 each. Dublin: P Ryan 0-4 (3f), D Sutcliffe, D Treacy, R O'Dwyer, A McCrabbe (f), D O'Callaghan 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- D Herity 7; P Murphy 7, JJ Delaney 9, J Tyrrell 8; T Walsh 7, B Hogan 9, R Doyle 8; C Buckley 7, P Hogan 7; H Shefflin 7, TJ Reid 7, E Larkin; 7 C Fennelly 6, R Power 9, R Hogan 9. Subs: N Hickey 6 for Delaney (48), A Fogarty 7 for Buckley (54), M Ruth 6 for Fennelly (57), K Joyce 6 for Walsh (62), J Tennyson for B Hogan (69).
Dublin -- G Maguire 8; N Corcoran 5, P Kelly 5, T Brady 6; S Hiney 6, J Boland 5, M Carton 5; J McCaffrey 6, S Durkin 5; C Keaney 5, R O'Dwyer 5, D Sutcliffe 7; P Ryan 5, L Rushe 5, C McCormack 5. Subs: D Treacy 5 for Keaney (15), R Trainor 6 for Corcoran (29), A McCrabbe 5 for McCormack (34), R O'Carroll 5 for Durkin (h-t), D O'Callaghan 6 for Ryan (50).
Ref -- B Kelly (Westmeath).