Dublin must keep the Kilkenny demons out of their skull

No disrespect to Wexford, but I always regard our win against Galway in the 2011 Leinster semi-final as Dublin’s first big victory, our first real championship breakthrough.

Dublin must keep the Kilkenny demons out of their skull

When we were stuck in traffic afterwards, we were looking out the windows at hordes of young kids who had left their cars, pucking along the side of the road, or on grass verges. Dublin jerseys were everywhere. It was magical.

“This is something else,” I said to Richie Stakelum. “We are finally beginning to see the light.”

We still weren’t ready to take that next step, though. We got too uptight for the Leinster final. Kilkenny were coming for redemption after we beat them in the league final. We saw the impending backlash and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kilkenny rolled over us.

Kilkenny leathered us again in 2012. Once more, we got too uptight about facing them. The focus of our whole year was on meeting them that June. We were making this too much about Kilkenny. Dublin were so caught up with how well they were doing that we weren’t performing ourselves. We needed to make this more about ourselves, not them.

We managed that balance in 2013. We tried to completely ignore that it was Kilkenny we were playing. Even when we drew with them the first day, I remember meeting a few Clarecastle people in the village that night and they were lamenting that our chance had passed. “God, it’s a pity.”

I heard that word pity about 40 times that evening. I didn’t entertain it for a second. Neither did the players.

We met again on the Monday evening for a stretching session and we painted a host of ‘What if?’ scenarios. Whatever happened in the drawn game, it didn’t matter anymore. “Just let it off. Get up and play the next ball.”

It was a huge turning point in beating Kilkenny in that replay.

When we ran into Kilkenny again in the 2014 Leinster final, we allowed them to invade our psyche once more. No matter how hard we tried to keep the Kilkenny demons out, they still found their way inside our skulls.

That’s the challenge for Dublin this evening; to keep completely focused on themselves; to nearly make Kilkenny as irrelevant as possible.

I was very impressed with Dublin three weeks ago. I was thinking that evening about how much of a pity this game isn’t in Croke Park, where Dublin could maybe burn the Kilkenny defence with the pace of Dáire Plunkett, Niall McMorrow and Eamonn Dillon. It was also still fresh in my mind how much Kilkenny were torn to shreds by Clare in Thurles in the league.

Dublin beat Kilkenny in Portlaoise in 2013 but that was a different type of a team, far more robust and physically stronger than this side. Croke Park would have suited Dublin. I’m sure the players have heard all that stuff a thousand times from the outside world but their world is all that matter. If they can get all that stuff out of their heads, especially with Kilkenny in the other corner, there is plenty of space in Portlaoise.

Kilkenny are vulnerable. Ger Loughnane said they were functional. It’s hard to say that about a team going for three-in-a-row but I do think there was merit in some of what Loughnane was saying. Kilkenny are not as good as they were. They can’t be with the players they have lost.

Kilkenny will need a Codyesque performance and the manager will be doing everything to draw it out of them. The backlash is planned for a host of reasons. Kilkenny are coming off a licking from Clare in the league. Their minors and U21s are already gone out of the championship. The snarling teeth will be visible. This is when Kilkenny are at their most dangerous.

When they all feed into Brian Cody’s psyche, Kilkenny play with an even more ferocious savagery than normal. Lads who are creaking nearly become more defiant. Cody will have his players wired. Kilkenny will want to make a massive statement. I don’t know will that approach sustain them against Galway in Croke Park in a Leinster final but it should get them over the line now.

Dublin are still ready to ask big questions off the All-Ireland champions. Dublin’s young players have been excellent. Shane Barrett really impressed me with their U21s. Sean Treacy must be close to starting after his performance that evening. Eoghan O’Donnell gave an exhibition against Wexford in both the U21s and senior matches and McMorrow and Dillon have been playing great stuff. Ryan O’Dwyer has very little hurling done at this level but he will bring the physicality that Dublin need in the middle third against this crowd.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Dublin won but that is half the reason I’m tipping Kilkenny. If everyone else was giving Dublin less of a chance, I’d fancy them even more. But in these circumstances, there is always the potential for a classic Cody backlash.

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