Kilkenny 3-11 Dublin 0-25: It’s been quite the start to the league for Ger Cunningham’s new troops, even if this result will have any number of holes poked in it due to some of the mitigating factors on Kilkenny’s side.
Brian Cody had used the word “transition” even before this league campaign began and it looked a lot more appropriate yesterday than it had the week before, when his side took a deserved two-point haul home from Cork.
Kilkenny’s absence of bodies, occasioned by injuries, retirements and Ballyhale Shamrock’s imminent All-Ireland club final commitments, was compounded by the losses of Jonjo Farrell and Joe Lyng on straight red cards after 24 and 56 minutes respectively.
Farrell’s departure, for what the referee signalled was a wild swipe of the stick, looked far from warranted while the gasps from the home crowd when Lyng brought his hurley down on Cian Boland’s helmet suggested that few had any issue with that particular decision.
Add all that together — and throw in the sages who will dismiss any action’s relevance at this time of year — and Dublin’s victory may not add up to all that much, yet no away win in these parts should be summarily dismissed.
Paul Ryan claimed eight points against Tipperary last week, but heavy travel commitments meant his replacement here by David Treacy, who matched his stake with another eight points and three more for good measure. The Cuala corner-forward’s contribution was undoubtedly the game’s best — and most important — but the visitors again had another knot of live contenders: Peter Kelly and Chris Crummey in the half-back line and Danny Sutcliffe at wing-forward among them.
Nor was this a case of the game shunting Dublin’s way on the back of the first dismissal. They already led by 0-8 to 1-2 by then, with the Kilkenny goal coming against the run of play when Matthew Ruth blocked Paul Schutte and scrambled home.
Treacy had already found his groove by then on a pitch that was soft and, in at least one spot around the middle, heavy with surface water. Kilkenny’s issues were obvious when Richie Hogan switched from the corner out to around midfield.
For all the unfamiliar faces in their line-up, it should be noted that Jackie Tyrrell suffered horribly on Treacy, while Walter Walsh was dominated by Kelly, though Farrell had started well on full-back Michael Carton before his unforeseen exit.
Ruth’s goal on 17 minutes seemed to act like a full-stop on the scoreboard for a spell, but Farrell’s dismissal spurred Dublin back onto the beat and they accounted for seven of the eight points scored between the 24th minute and half-time.
A worrying trend, certainly, but Kilkenny won’t have panicked as the extra man has a habit of coming back to haunt teams in Gaelic games, after all, and Cody’s side started back with a stiff wind buffeting their backs.
Yet, what followed for the next 20 minutes was a masterclass in how to play hurling with an extra man and against the elements as Dublin opted to relieve Paul Schutte of the free-man role and replace him with Kelly.
The Lucan man was immense in that period, but Dublin’s collective was key. Time and again, they built from the back, playing patient and controlled hurling, symbolised by Sutcliffe’s team point three minutes after the break that started near their own square.
Kilkenny coped less well. Countless clearances found their way to Dublin defenders in acres of space and they stumbled their way through the 26 minutes from Farrell’s loss to the 53rd minute having scored just two points.
It took Lyng’s dismissal to finally generate momentum.
Dublin, with a lead of 14 points, quite clearly stopped doing what they had been and Kilkenny’s gander was up sufficiently to take advantage. Hogan led ‘Operation Salvage Pride’ with his 1-4 in that last quarter all sourced from dead balls and Ruth scrambled home his second goal of the afternoon.
Only in Kilkenny could the home team lose two players, trail by a dozen points with 17 minutes left and still threaten to perform some miraculous comeback, but there were enough goalmouth scrambles for that ridiculous scenario to have been entertained.
It was an end game entirely out of character with the grip Dublin had imposed on it for three quarters, but the baying of the home crowd rose one last time when Sutcliffe walked for a second yellow, before the final whistle called a halt.
Scorers for Kilkenny: R Hogan 1-7 (1-5 frees), M Ruth 2-0, P Walsh, W Walsh, M Kelly, J Farrell 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; T Keogh, P Murphy, J Tyrrell; B Kennedy, K Joyce, C Buckley; G Brennan, L Ryan; P Walsh, W Walsh, M Ruth; M Kelly, J Farrell, R Hogan. Subs: J Power for Brennan, J Lyng for Kennedy (both 43), C Boland for Sutcliffe (53).
Subs for Kilkenny: J Power for Brennan, J Lyng for Kennedy (both 43), C Boland for Sutcliffe (53).
Scorers for Dublin: D Treacy 0-11 (four frees, three 65s), D Sutcliffe 0-4, E Dillon, M Schutte 0-3 each, P Kelly 0-2, S Durkin, S Lambert 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: A Nolan; C O’Callaghan, M Carton, P Schutte; C Crummey, P Kelly, C Keaney; S Durkin, S Lambert; C Cronin, E Dillon, D Sutcliffe; D Treacy, L Rushe, M Schutte. Subs: C Boland for Cronin (53), P Ryan for Treacy (66).
Subs for Dublin: C Boland for Cronin (53), P Ryan for Treacy (66).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).