This was to be hurling’s own Rumble in the Jungle, a seismic clash of two heavyweights in the Leinster senior hurling semi-final.
One turned up, Kilkenny reinforcing their claim to be known as the greatest hurling team of all time; the other? “We didn’t seem to have a go at all,” said manager Anthony Daly. “That’s the most disappointing thing. To get beaten by Kilkenny is not a shock to my system or anybody else’s. It’s a shock how poor we were on the day.”
No-one had seen this coming, no-one, which explains Anthony Daly’s stunned reaction. Kilkenny were missing last year’s All-Ireland starting midfield, Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice. Dublin had their big guns back and blew Laois away in their quarter-final win.
“I know Laois weren’t good,” Anthony admitted, “But we could put moves together, we could pick the ball up first time. Out there, we looked like we couldn’t rise the ball. We didn’t even focus on a result, we focused on a performance which is what all the experts will tell you what you need to do to get the best out of yourselves. That’s the most disappointing thing, that we didn’t perform at all, but I wouldn’t take it off Kilkenny.”
No, no-one should take if off Kilkenny. Even manager Brian Cody was impressed, rising above his usual ‘decent display’ reaction.
“Ah yeah, we played very well,” he gushed (alright, but this is Brian Cody we’re talking about here and for Brian, that’s gushing!). “There’s no doubt about that.
“Against a strong wind in the first half we were obviously hoping to stay with them as well as we could. We settled early enough and the first goal was important.
“We got two very good goals in the first half and that gave us a bit of a cushion which was huge for us at half-time because there was a very strong breeze out there. I suppose the attitude of the players right through the field was very good and I am just happy with it.”
It was a contest for just 16 minutes, the game tied at that stage 0-3 apiece, when that first goal came. And it was a beauty. All season, TJ Reid has been threatening to blow teams apart, a brilliant ball-winner but his finishing has been letting him down. Not on Saturday evening. A superb one-two with full-forward Richie Power and the Dublin defence was split wide open, Gary Maguire with no chance from TJ’s point-blank shot.
From there on, it was vintage Kilkenny. The defence did their boa constrictor impression, wrapped themselves round any Dublin forward in possession and squeezed the life from them.
New midfield combination Cillian Buckley and Paddy Hogan blotted out the Dublin duo while up front, TJ and the twin Richies, Power and Hogan, led the charge. Henry himself, Eoin Larkin and Colin Fennelly all did what Kilkenny forwards do so well — defended with their lives.
“The forwards were awesome in the first half,” said Kilkenny keeper David Herity, the man with the best view in the house of his own team-mates.
“Their hooking and blocking was fantastic once again. They never let Dublin settle for a second.”
Even before the ball was thrown in, however, David could see this coming.
“You kind of know from the mood in the dressing room how lads are feeling and in fairness, they were fairly psyched. There were a few niggles before the game but lads seemed to shake it off, got themselves ready. They’re so professional about it, they know their bodies at this stage, they know not to overdo it coming up to the match. And then they go out and they play like that. Ah they were awesome.”
Ten points was the half-time lead, 2-10 to 0-6, the cultured Power with the second goal after a pass from Richie Hogan. That lead was extended to 17 points (2-18 to 0-7) by the 56th minute and by now we were watching an exhibition. What the All-Blacks had done to Ireland earlier in the day in New Zealand, Kilkenny were now doing to Dublin with the same ruthlessness. How does a team that so has devoured so many opponents continue to play with such ferocious appetite?
“I think it’s just the game of hurling, how hurling is supposed to be played,” said Brian Cody.
“There’s nothing magical in that. Hooking and blocking are two of the top skills in the game. Intensity. This is the top level and if you don’t have intensity you’re going to be blown away. There’s nothing mysterious about it.”
No, but there is much that is magical.
Scorers for Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-10 (9fs, 1 65), R Power 1-3, TJ Reid 1-2, P Hogan, R Hogan, E Larkin 0-2 each.
Scorers for Dublin: P Ryan 0-4 (3fs), D Sutcliffe, R O’Dwyer, D Treacy, D O’Callaghan, A McCrabbe (f), 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: D Herity; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, R Doyle; C Buckley, P Hogan; H Shefflin, TJ Reid, E Larkin (capt); C Fennelly, R Power, R Hogan.
Subs: N Hickey for Delaney (inj. 48), A Fogarty for Buckley (54), M Ruth for Fennelly (57), K Joyce for Walsh (62), J Tennyson for B Hogan (69).
DUBLIN: G Maguire; N Corcoran, T Brady, P Kelly; S Hiney, J Boland, M Carton; S Durkin, J McCaffrey; C Keaney, R O’Dwyer, D Sutcliffe; P Ryan, L Rushe, C McCormack.
Subs: D Treacy for Heaney (inj. 15), R Trainor for Corcoran (29), A McCrabbe for McCormack (34), R O’Carroll for Durkin (35), D O’Callaghan for Ryan (50).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).
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