End of an era or the start of one?

WELL, Emerson said the best period to be born in is when the old and the new stand side by side (Ralph Emerson, by the way; not Hughie).

Croke Park yesterday saw the new stand down on the old. In front of 42,030 spectators Dublin beat Kilkenny by 12 points in the Allianz League final, and you have your pick of emblematic moments: try Conal Keaney’s towering late point from the halfway line, when he overcame a swirling wind which had confounded every player until then. That attendance is a fluid figure, by the way.

Galway hammered Cavan in the All-Ireland U21 football final curtain-raiser and the large northern support, understandably, trailed out after that trouncing.

Incredibly, Dublin’s winning margin was greater than Galway’s, and that game was also over long before the last whistle. Last week Kilkenny were calling for the end-of-match position announcements to be stopped; yesterday it couldn’t have come quickly enough.

The talking points were concentrated in the first-half — and a minute or so after the short whistle. Dublin conceded an early goal yesterday but rallied to go ahead when the game took what lazy thriller-writers label a dramatic twist.

Eoin Larkin of Kilkenny had won a 24th-minute free when he got entangled with Dublin’s Conor McCormack and lashed out, earning a straight red card. Though eulogised by his manager as a clean player after the game, Larkin could have few complaints with the decision.

It was Dublin’s turn to be incensed when Michael Wadding blew for half-time just as McCormack buried a goal.

Quick comparisons with Clive Thomas at the 1978 World Cup were a stretch – it seemed the whistle went just before McCormack connected — but events soon overtook that little controversy, providing a bigger one.

Before going in for the tea Dublin and Kilkenny took it on themselves to re-enact the Real Madrid-Barcelona fracas during the week, or the Cork-Dublin exchange last Sunday, only this time nobody made it to the tunnel for the row.

The flashpoint for handbags – the flashbag? — was John Dalton’s encounter with a Dublin opponent as they headed for the dressing-rooms, where the word ‘encounter’ stands for ‘an indiscretion likely to generate a great deal of interest from the GAA authorities’.

Dublin dawdled on the ball after the break but McCormack scored a point to settle them. As the second-half wore on it became more fractured, and not just because of a lengthy hold-up when Joey Boland sustained a serious shoulder injury. The broken rhythm suited the sky blues, as they had an extra man to crowd the opposition forwards, and a distinct physical advantage in the close exchanges began to take its toll on Kilkenny. With the game nudging towards six minutes of additional time allotted for Boland’s treatment the black and amber wilted, and Dublin erupted with a cavalcade of points from all angles, cheered by an appreciative Hill.

Brian Cody was poker-faced after the game: “I’m not surprised with the quality of the Dublin team. They had all the ingredients of a really good team. They’ve shown it all year and they certainly showed it (today).”

Though the Cats’ boss put up that staunch defence of Eoin Larkin and said he didn’t see what sparked the half-time melee, he will surely be disappointed by his side’s disciplinary meltdown.

Two other Kilkenny players took loose swipes at opponents yesterday, and Cody will hope that the twilight crankiness that shadows many long careers will not stain those of his players. Another injury picked up yesterday, by JJ Delaney, adds to his headaches. Though Tommy Walsh should be back for the championship, Aidan Fogarty has a long-term injury and the date of Henry Shefflin’s possible return remains a movable feast. His Dublin counterpart was mindful of that.

“Look, they were down six marquee players,” said Anthony Daly. “For any team to be down Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh, probably two of the best players of the last 12 years, never mind the rest they were down, if you were to write Kilkenny off . . . you’d be confused.”

True to form, Daly was already thinking of the first round of the Leinster championship.

“We’ve a job of work to do to keep the focus, to learn the lesson that maybe other Dublin teams didn’t,getting caught up in the hype. If we beat Offaly by one point at the end of May we’ll be happy men.”

Ryan O’Dwyer’s guess that Dublin celebrations might stretch to this evening can probably co-exist with Daly’s message. He and his players can kick on: a first title frees a team, and Dublin’s win yesterday suggested the end of the beginning for them. The temptation is to be glib and suggest that yesterday marked the beginning of the end for their opponents. Hardly true with the talent at their disposal, but the possibility of considering it shows the mountain Kilkenny must now climb.


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