Kilkenny's experience to give them the edge
Allianz HL Div 1 final
FOR the first time in 20 years, Leinster has turned its back on the rest of the hurling world and declared the Allianz League Division 1 final a strictly private party.
They are quite happy for everybody to watch the fun but only with their noses pressed against the glass from the outside. Inside, it's all about Dublin and Kilkenny as they clash in the first all-Leinster League final since Offaly beat Wexford in 1991.
It's not a final pairing that would have had attracted many takers in a pre-League competition to nominate the last two. Kilkenny, yes, since they are always fancied to be still around when big prizes are being handed out; Dublin, no, as their last appearance in a national final (All-Ireland) was 50 years ago.
Also, there were suspicions that after a progressive 2009, Dublin had regressed somewhat last year. They only survived in Division 1 by beating a second-string Limerick team on the last day; they lost to Kilkenny by 19 points in the Leinster semi-final and then lost to Antrim in the qualifiers.
Not a good year, and certainly not be compared with 2009 when they won three and drew one of seven League games, reached the Leinster final and were unlucky to lose to Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Last year's dip left this season as absolutely crucial and while it was encouraging for Dublin that Anthony Daly stayed on to oversee the re-launch, there were many who thought that 5th, or even 6th on the Division 1 table, was the best they could hope for.
Instead, they finished second, losing just once (to Galway) and ending the programme as top scorers.
Central to that was the arrival of Conal Keaney and Ryan O'Dwyer, who between them have scored 2-53 (2-17 from open play). The pair also added physique to the attack that had been seen as a bit lightweight.
The upsurge in intensity hasn't been confined to the attack. The defence has been more physically forceful, sending out a clear signal from early in the Walsh Cup that opponents could expect an in-your-face approach from Tomas Brady and Co.
The restructured package delivered seven wins, two draws and one defeat from 10 Walsh Cup and NHL games, a return that not even Kilkenny could match. Indeed, they were among Dublin's victims in the Walsh Cup, and the League clash finished level.
Dublin are delivering efficiency yields not seen from them for a very long time but will they continue to do it under a pressure which they haven't experienced before? And if they do, will it be enough?
There's no disputing that Dublin are moving into new territory tomorrow. It has been common for Kilkenny to contest (and often win) three major finals in a year for more than a decade, so this is all routine for them.
There's a familiarity in how they approach finals and while they are some way below full strength, the system put in place by Brian Cody and his back-room team over the years caters for all eventualities. It doesn't win games on its own but it does provide a comfort blanket when problems arise.
Even that wasn't enough in last year's All-Ireland final, but Tipperary's inexorable rise had been achieved over three seasons, whereas Dublin are still a work in progress. Besides, it didn't start from as high a base.
They are a lot more advanced than they were last year, especially in the key area of believing that they can not only compete with, but actually beat the super-powers.
They proved by how much they had advanced in that department when picking off three late points to draw with Kilkenny four weeks ago, so they certainly won't be undermined by any inferiority complex.
However, playing a national final in Croke Park is brand new to them, whereas it's second nature to Kilkenny. That will give them a crucial edge when other facets of play are pretty even. Kilkenny are likely to be that bit better at exploiting their chances under pressure which, ultimately, could be the tie-breaker.
Odds: Kilkenny 2/5; Dublin 9/4; Draw 10/1
Dublin -- G Maguire; N Corcoran, T Brady, P Kelly; J McCaffrey (Capt), J Boland, S Durkin; A McCrabbe, L Rushe; C Keaney, R O'Dwyer, C McCormack; D Plunkett, D O'Callaghan, P Ryan.
Kilkenny -- D Herity; J Dalton, B Hogan, N Hickey; P Hogan, J Tyrrell, JJ Delaney; TJ Reid, M Rice; Fitzpatrick, M Ruth, E Larkin; C Fennelly, E Brennan, R Hogan.
Dublin v Kilkenny,
Live, TG4, tomorrow, 4.0