By Diarmuid O’Flynn
DUBLIN had the first word in this Guinness Leinster SHC semi-final in Nowlan Park on sunny Saturday evening with points from centre-back Stephen Hiney and corner-forward Tomas McGrane giving them an early advantage over the reigning provincial and All-Ireland champions, lifting the spirits of their large following in a big attendance.
They also had the last word, a pointed ‘65’ from their never-say-die captain Kevin Flynn.
They even had much to say for themselves in a decent first half of hurling, going in the break trailing by just four points, 1-7 to 0-6.
The Kilkenny goal had come from new wing-forward Conor Phelan after good approach work by full-forward Martin Comerford.
The opening period was also garnished with three sparkling points from Kilkenny’s other wing-forward debutant, young Tommy Walsh.
Ultimately however, it was the Cats who had most to say for themselves with their dominance growing by the minute in a lop-sided second-half.
Their two goals were things of beauty: Henry Shefflin, having been shifted from centre-forward to the wing, glided in behind the defence to latch onto a long Peter Barry centre for the first.
Then ‘Fast’ Eddie Brennan lived up the his nickname for the second, with his fast hands robbing a bobbing ball from a cluster of Dublin defenders, his fast legs carrying him clear, before his quickly lobbed the ball over the closing Dublin keeper Brendan McLoughlin.
After all that then, and given the great expectations with which they had entered this game, what would Dublin manager Marty Morris have to say for himself? Plenty, as it turned out.
"Don’t be too hard on us lads", he began, with a small laugh, before going on to express his deep disappointment.
"We came down here with great hope, but we just did not keep it together in the second half. We had two clear-cut goal chances that we would have taken in any other game, but we didn’t.
"We needed a shot in the arm early on, that was what we needed, like we got when we beat them in February. I don’t want to be too hard on the team, they fought and fought and fought, but Kilkenny punished every mistake in our back-line today, they were so clinical in their finishing, superb all through the field.
" To be honest, we had no answer to them, they showed how class counted."
Those goal chances, and the manner in which they were wasted, highlighted the difference between the sides. As Morris pointed out, Kilkenny were all efficiency, in contrast to his charges.
The Kilkenny defence was in mean mood on Saturday and were not going to give guys second chances in around the box.
So, the champions won in large part because they played so well, but as their manager admitted, Dublin definitely didn’t help their own cause.
"We fell back into some bad old Dublin habits, elementary errors that we’d tried to eradicate; over-running with the ball, two and three attempted lifts, you just don’t do that at this level."
Where to now for Dublin? False dawn, or still hope for the future? The latter, reckons Kilkenny manager Brian Cody.
"Dublin had matches last weekend, the week before, down here in Nowlan Park against Laois, and to say I was concerned coming into this game would be putting it mildly.
" If we had won this game by two or three points, I would have been a happy man; in the end, we won by 3-16 to 0-10, which is a big win, an excellent result for us, because Dublin are a good team.
"Yes were writing for the last couple of weeks about how good they are, so to say tonight was a good result for us is putting it mildly, Dublin are a serious, serious team.
"They are getting closer and closer to the likes of Kilkenny, Wexford, Offaly, but this is not something that happens overnight."
Scorers for Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 1-4 (0-1 free); T. Walsh 0-5; M. Comerford 0-3; E. Brennan 1-0; C. Phelan 1-0; DJ Carey 0-2 (0-1 free); R. Mullally 0-2 (0-1 free).
Dublin: T. McGrane 0-4 (all frees); C. Keaney 0-2; K. Flynn 0-2 (0-1 65); S. Martin, S. Hiney, 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; M. Kavanagh, N. Hickey, JJ Delaney; R. Mullally, P. Barry, A. Cummins; D. Lyng, P. Tennyson; C. Phelan, H. Shefflin, T. Walsh; DJ Carey (C), M. Comerford, E. Brennan.
Subs: J. Hoyne (Lyng 57); W. Bourke (Cummins 60).
DUBLIN: B. McLoughlin; P. Brennan, S. Perkins, D. Spain; S. Hiney, K. Ryan, D. O’Reilly; D. Sweeney, C. Meehan; C. Keaney, S. Martin, K. Flynn (C); T. McGrane, K. Horgan, G. Ennis. Subs: T. Moore (O’Reilly 34); D. Russell (Horgan (47); M. Carton (Ennis 47); R. Fallon (Meehan 55); J. McGuirk (McGrane 60).
Referee: B. Kelly (Westmeath)