“It was seriously wet out there,” said Kilkenny manager Brian Cody; “I’m sure lads weren’t expecting what (rain) fell to fall, it made it very difficult to hold your feet. It turned out to be a brilliant game, full of intensity, full of passion, from both teams.”
Dublin started strongly and looked like they were going to blitz a Kilkenny side weakened by the absence of such stalwarts as Tommy Walsh, John Tennyson, JJ Delaney, Henry Shefflin, Richie Power and Michael Rice.
They led by three points after 19 minutes, 0-5 to 0-2, but it would have been much more but for eight wides in a continuation of the poor shooting that cost them dearly in last week’s late loss to Galway.
When Matthew Ruth goaled for the Cats in the 20th minute to tie the scores (1-2 to 0-5), it looked like Kilkenny were about to make their hosts pay a serious price for that profligacy.
But Dublin recovered well from that blow, took control yet again, and when late call-up Paul Ryan got on the end of a slick move involving the hard-working Ryan O’Dwyer and Daire Plunkett to put the Blues 1-11 to 1-6 ahead as half-time approached, they were back in the driving-seat.
Into the second minute of injury-time, however, and Dublin were caught again with Kilkenny full-forward Eddie Brennan grabbing a huge clearance by wing-back Paddy Hogan and goaling from close range, which left just two points between them at the break (1-12 to 2-7). Psychologically, a huge lift for Kilkenny, a morale-buster for Dublin. “No doubt about it,” admitted manager Anthony Daly, “but we tried to put a positive spin on it – we were still a couple of points ahead. Eddie Brennan has made a habit of that for about 13 years and was a handful for us.”
Peter Kelly was the man asked to take over from Tomás Brady at full-back, and as noted by Daly, he ran smack into an in-form Brennan. Less than a minute after the restart the Kilkenny attacker collected another long Paddy Hogan clearance but this time his effort was smothered by the outstanding Gary Maguire.
With conditions now near impossible, players on both sides struggling to keep their feet, scores were hard to come by for the next quarter. Kilkenny took the lead for the first time in the 48th minute with a Matthew Ruth point, a lead they extended 10 minutes later when the same player, ever-alert, pounced on yet another superb Maguire save (Colin Fennelly again with the initial shot), for Kilkenny’s third goal. Three points behind, Dublin now stepped it up a gear and for the final 10 minutes they were the ones on top. Three more wides they notched as they went to close the three-point gap, but close it they did, Paul Ryan with the equaliser in the final minute of injury-time.
Brian Cody was not surprised by the battle. He said: “I’ve been talking about how good Dublin are for the past few years. As far as I’m concerned they’re as tough an opposition as anyone else right now. The records won’t prove it but as far as I’m concerned Dublin are a top hurling county.”
Fine, says Anthony Daly, but there is still a vulnerability in his team.
“Belief is a huge thing, and I’d have grown up with that,” said the dual Clare All-Ireland-winning captain; “It is the DNA — when you played with St Flannan’s you expected to win, when you played for the Clare minors you didn’t, deep down inside you.
“It’s a bit the same here; we’re trying to change that but for sure it’s not done easily. But little nights like (tonight) where you can battle back and finish strong against Kilkenny, that’s where you learn that we’re not miles off the thing. If you can believe in yourself enough you can get something from these type of games. Obviously championship will a step up from this again and I think we have the type of athlete who can step up.
“But time will tell.”
Scorers for Dublin: P Ryan 1-5 (0-1f, 0-1 65); C Keaney 0-5 (0-3f, 0-1 65); L Rushe 0-2; R O’Dwyer 0-2; S Durkin, J McCaffrey, D Plunkett, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilkenny: M Ruth 2-1; E Brennan 1-2; R Hogan 0-5 (0-3f); M Fennelly 0-2; A Fogarty 0-1.
Subs for Dublin: S Ryan for Lambert (49); P Schutte for Gough (inj. 59); P Carton for Plunkett (66).
Subs for Kilkenny: TJ Reid for Murphy (43); J Mulhall for M Fogarty (52); PJ Delaney for C Fogarty (56).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).