MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Weekend of drama on a biblical scale

Devotees of the traditional championship structure probably woke today with a thumping headache.

Two provincial finals 160 miles apart provided two 12-point maulings, the champions both hitting 24 points in games which suffered in comparison with the ferocious entertainment on offer the previous evening.

We were going to say the entertainment off-Broadway, but scratch that: off-Broadway is where it’s at if last weekend is anything to go by.

That’s the wide-angle view. The close-up could do with some airbrushing.

There were 32,567 in Croke Park for the Leinster hurling final, a contest which ended long before the final whistle. In our hunt for an angle someone asked Brian Cody if his Kilkenny side has got back to the peak.

“I don’t see years as peak years. A peak year is when you win an All-Ireland final and regardless of what people think, that is the objective for everyone.

“We were a long way from it last year and it’s a huge challenge. We are just working away diligently.”

Diligent is a precise description. Kilkenny were functional rather than fantastic, but they still had a dozen points to spare at the final whistle.

Dublin asked a question when Colm Cronin slalomed around Jackie Tyrrell — who cleared a world of ball — to goal neatly. His shot didn’t burst the net, but as Don Howe used to say about a different code, it didn’t have to.

Kilkenny answered with... diligence. TJ Reid resumed the smooth efficiency that keeps him a live contender for end of year awards, and his comrades kept their work rate going. They were four up at the break and seven ahead on 39 minutes, and when Conal Keaney over carried at that stage the response of the Kilkenny players to forcing that free told you that the momentum was with them, and it stayed like that to the end.

Mind you, referring to Reid’s excellence means Richie Hogan’s performance has to be mentioned, or savoured. The midfielder seemed to operate in his own discrete area for the entirety of the game, like a free trade zone in a seaport where the normal restrictions don’t apply.

He won possession, he distributed cleverly and generally did everything with an air of smooth frictionless class. John Updike was fond of asking whether we appreciate accomplishments achieved with effort more than those achieved without visible strain: Hogan belonged in the latter class yesterday.

To be fair to Dublin, they had their own champion. Liam Rushe offered a kind of platonic ideal of centre-back play, covering and clearing like an impersonation of Mick Roche at his classical best, but it tells you everything that Dublin’s best was a defender, and Kilkenny’s best an attacking midfielder.

Other impressions? There was a good deal of uncharacteristic slipping and fumbling early doors, as though living up to the standard set by the Saturday evening games was a burden for both teams.

The contest never seemed as elemental as Ennis or Semple Stadium the previous night, but maybe that’s just the impression from the comfortable seats. We’re all brave as boxing managers sitting there.

Dublin manager Anthony Daly was his candid self afterwards. He hadn’t anticipated his side being so flat, he said.

“Ah look it, I’ve often been in tension-filled rooms and fellas went out and hurled great,” he said.

“Sometimes there’s no tension, you think everything is right... it just didn’t click into gear today at all. But credit to Kilkenny. I would give them great credit.

“They’ve really shown that they’re entitled to be All-Ireland favourites over the last few weeks. They might have let Galway off the hook but they didn’t the last day and they didn’t today.

“They’ll be hard beat. They’re a step ahead of us in the pecking order. They’re Leinster champions.”

He’ll know they didn’t help themselves with some basic errors — Dotsy O’Callaghan picked a second-half ball near the square that was almost audibly crying out to be pulled on, and more than once the Dubs carried the ball into contact, to borrow a Gaelic football term.

Still, Daly will have noted that they created three clear goal chances after the break. What his team probably needed was more of the blood and thunder near the Hogan sideline on 51 minutes, a sharp exchange that energised the Dubs by lifting the tempo; what they definitely needed was more hurling for Danny Sutcliffe, just back from a wrist injury.

In the other corner, Kilkenny are like a great band reforming to tour after the break-up: all the original members may not be in place, but the sound is a reasonable facsimile of the greatest hits. At times they creaked a little —see those goal chances created by Dublin, which tended not to occur when Kilkenny were in their considerable pomp, but every black and amber attack looks freighted with menace.

So: over the last couple of days we had resurrection in Cusack Park and revelation in Thurles, not counting the apocalypse for Dublin — and Cork — yesterday afternoon. Every experience in the Bible on offer over the course of a single weekend.

The issue for the GAA, though, is that the apocalypse came in a minor key in both instances.


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