One title doesn’t necessarily signal a dramatic revival for the game in the metropolis, but, still, something has certainly been stirring in the capital in the underage ranks.
“One of the main assets that this panel possessed all along was a belief in their ability,” said manager Tom Fitzpatrick afterwards. “They’re very skilful, they’re high achievers and they struck a perfect balance between training and studying.
“This is a win for all Dubs but the younger generation are worth far more than they’re sometimes given credit for. These lads are great role models for their generation as well. This all came on the back of the structures that have been put into Dublin hurling over recent years.”
Despite their excellent semi-final defeat of Kilkenny, there was still a sense of Dublin railing against tradition before the throw-in. After all, the Wexford teamsheet boasted such storied names as Griffin, Travers, Codd and Storey in their ranks.
But Wexford or Kilkenny jerseys don’t hold the same dread for Dublin underage hurlers this century as they did the last, however, and they demonstrated that the grand surroundings of Croke Park held even fewer fears from the first minute onwards yesterday.
The hugely impressive Kevin O’Reilly got the scoreboard ticking over after just two minutes to give Dublin a lead they never relinquished, and within ten minutes they were 0-3 to 0-1 ahead. It could have been even better had Wexford keeper Niall Maher not deflected wide two goal chances from Ross O’Carroll and Shane Casey.
In the past, such thwarted opportunities would have brought on an element of foreboding for Dublin’s chances. Not now. Dublin were the team playing with a swagger, symbolised by Keith Dunne’s powerful run and sublime score from the half-back line after 16 minutes.
Crucially, they seemed to be enjoying the break of the ball as well, with two of Joseph Boland’s three first-half points germinating in a fortunate bounce of the dropping ball.
They fully deserved the luck. Dublin were the slicker, tidier, more pacey and hungrier team, and O’Reilly, Boland and his midfield partner and captain John McCaffrey were the gems in a particularly polished group.
O’Reilly bagged the game’s best score eight minutes before the interval, killing a wickedly quick pass with the deftest of touches before turning his man and caressing the ball over the bar from the left touchline.
Wexford looked painfully limited and were unable to gain parity down the middle of the park against Dublin’s sturdy central spine. It took them a full 30-plus minutes to register a score from play, PJ Nolan doing the honours, and the score was 0-9 to 0-5 at the break.
Wexford, at least, had a free-taker they could depend on, Keith Burke’s four dead balls in the first half and his two soon after the turnaround keeping Dublin in sight almost single-handedly.
With 12 minutes to go Dublin seemed home and dry with the scores 0-14 to 0-8 but as the crowd grew, so too did Wexford’s confidence. Three successive points narrowed the gap to a goal but that was where the comeback would stall.
Burke saw a snap-shot off the ground slither wide on the brink of injury-time before Casey and McCaffrey picked off two more Dublin points at the other end to cap a superb performance and a hugely important day for the future of Leinster hurling.
“The ticker wasn’t great there in the last five minutes and I think I might have to go for the annual check-up after it but they managed to get those insurance points there at the end. These guys really are mature beyond their years,” said Fitzpatrick.
: C McCormack; R Drumgoole, P Callaghan, E Walsh; K Dunne (0-1), T Brady, C Connolly; J Boland (0-3), J McCaffrey (0-4, 1f); K O’Reilly (0-4, 3f), S Casey (0-2), J Maher; R O’Carroll (0-1), D O’Dwyer (0-1), S Durkin (0-1).
: S O’Rourke for S Durkin 40, C Twomey for Maher 46
: N Maher; C Power, C Lawlor, B O’Connor; R Griffin, G Sinnott, K Walsh; M Molloy, T Waters (0-2); C McGovern, B Travers, F O’Gorman (0-1); PJ Nolan (0-2), K Burke (0-6), D Redmond.
: J Codd (0-1) for Travers 21, S Roche for McGovern 35, P Hughes for Molloy 55
: D Connolly (Kilkenny).