Parnell Park buried any lingering thoughts of careful strategising and hoarding of resources in the new hurling dispensation. Dublin and Kilkenny fought themselves to a standstill at Parnell Park, as though they were never again to take the field, let alone face another appointment next week.
If Napoleon never actually said “You get stuck in, and then you see,” he should have: It was a theorem made flesh yesterday in Dublin 3.
The headlines will belong to Kilkenny’s late theft of the win, though Dublin dominated for long stretches. The unbending will of the men in black and amber has made this far too common an occurrence to be an accident, and it certainly wasn’t yesterday, but this encounter didn’t conform to the inevitability of classical tragedy. The win wasn’t preordained: The Cats clawed it out.
“Obviously Dublin were in the driving seat for long periods, with 10 minutes to go — five minutes to go — they were looking like winners,” said Brian Cody afterwards.
“When you win a game like that you can say you’re lucky, or you can say there’s tremendous spirit due to the players for their never-say-die spirit.
“We had a very inexperienced team out there, we had a lot of fellas in a whole new challenge, their first championship game. There’s huge credit due to them, the way they fought to the bitter end.
“Are Dublin in hard luck? For sure, they put in an outstanding performance but we kept it going and the goal at the end was crucial.”
A narrative had arisen in the last couple of weeks about Parnell Park and its narrowness, that the tight confines would somehow resemble one of those canyons John Wayne used to get a bad feeling about when he was commanding Victor McLaglen and other well-upholstered colleagues in the old West.
It was a few years since this reporter had been to the venue and I was surprised to find that the playing area was not, in fact, the width of a hobbit’s corridor, but a pretty regulation-sized pitch. No harm to decommission that particular metaphor either, which would cast Dublin boss Pat Gilroy as an unlikely Comanche.
That sense of the home side needing an ambush was hard to shake off, though, particularly given their start. Dublin pushed up aggressively on Kilkenny’s puck-out and their half-back line was able to dominate physically when Cats keeper Eoin Murphy went long on his restarts.
Add in an early goal from Paul Ryan and Dublin were bouncing in the sunshine. The visitors relied on TJ Reid’s metronomic accuracy from frees but were coming back into the game just before half-time, when Fergal Whitely’s smart first-time pull gave Dublin a second goal: 2-7 to 0-9 at the half.
Kilkenny were struggling, despite being only four points adrift. They’d called a corner-forward ashore before the break, always a barometer of unrest, but their players were energised in the second half, helped in no small way by the introduction of Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly, fresh from army service in the Lebanon.
However, Dublin still found another goal nearing the three-quarter mark, a scrambled effort from Jake Malone.
In the closing stages Dublin’s immense effort began to take a toll, but Kilkenny still trailed turning into added time. Liam Blanchfield conjured up the match-winning goal with a neat batted finish, but Dublin were incensed by what they saw with some justification as a foul on one of their defenders in the build-up.
After the game, asked about the incident, Gilroy simply said he had read the Official Guide before meeting reporters: “I’d rather not comment on that because I’m not supposed to. I’ll leave that to others. It’s extraordinary.”
As for the rest of the game, Gilroy’s diagnosis was accurate. “A lot of the things we had planned to do, we managed to do, we got a huge effort out of the team. I think Conal (Keaney) going off disrupted us, we were scrambling after that. Himself and Liam (Rushe) were doing a lot of good work up the middle. That did affect us.
“There are a lot of things we need to work on from that period. Also in the first half we missed a lot of chances. We had a lot of dominance and we should have been much further ahead.
“We fought very hard but we have to finish out games, that’s the lesson.”
Succinct and to the point. When the emotion subsides Dublin will have to address eight first-half wides as well as three efforts which dropped into the hand of Eoin Murphy.
Take a step back from the drama as a whole, and what did yesterday tell us about the hurling in 2018?
In the US they’re relying on Childish Gambino to address the state of the nation: Kilkenny’s determination and Dublin’s physical commitment were the lessons from Parnell Park for the hurling world, and no-one needed Donald Glover’s dancing to teach us that.
The challenge for both sides — for all sides — is putting on the armour and going again next week.
Can teams really reach into themselves and find this level of performance over and over?
The answer is no, hence the managers yesterday referring to their panels.
Fitness, recovery, intensity, and will are all components necessary in this hurling season, but one of Napoleon’s other beliefs may become equally important in the next few weeks.
Before appointing a general, the Corsican only ever asked one question: Is he lucky?
P. Ryan (1-6, 5 frees); C. Keaney (0-4); P. Winters (0-3, 2 frees) F. Whitely, J. Malone (1-0 each), F. McGibb, T. Connolly, C. Crummey (0-1 each).
TJ Reid (0-12, 9 frees, 2 65s); E. Murphy (0-4, frees); L. Blanchfield (1-0), C. Fennelly (0-3); W. Walsh, J. Maher (0-2 each); J. Donnelly (0-1 each).
A. Nolan; P. Smyth, C. O’Callaghan B. O’Carroll; S. Barrett, S. Moran, C. Crummey (c); R. McBride, E. O’Donnell; J. Malone, C. Keaney, D. Sutcliffe; F. Whitely, L. Rushe, P. Ryan.
F McGibb for Sutcliffe (blood, 36-7); P. Winters for Ryan (45); F. McGibb for Whitely (48); T. Connolly for McBride (52); R. O’Dwyer for Keaney (inj, 60); S. Durkin for Malone (65).
E. Murphy; J. Holden, P. Walsh, P. Deegan; C. Delaney, C Buckley (c), E. Morrissey; R. Leahy, J. Maher; M. Keoghan, TJ Reid, J. Donnelly; B. Sheehan, W. Walsh, G. Aylward.
C. Fennelly for Sheehan (32); C. Fogarty for Keoghan (HT); P Murphy for Morrissey (45); L. Blanchfield for Leahy (54); L. Scanlon for Aylward (58).
D. Kirwan (Cork).
Conal Keaney’s injury. Rightly identified by his manager as a turning point, when the Dublin centre-forward was forced off with an injury in the closing stages it robbed his side of an experienced in-form player just as they were trying to close the game out.
Kilkenny’s application, spirit, determination - whatever you want to call it, and Brian Cody himself described it as “the collective”, it was on show yesterday. Few other teams would have kept going even when the game seemed to be out of reach late on.
For lads sunning themselves in the Middle East. Colin Fennelly and Paul Murphy have very little hurling done, having been in the Lebanon for several months, but Kilkenny would have lost without them yesterday. Fennelly hit three points and Murphy shored up an under-pressure defence with his usual industry.
Dublin’s first-half shooting. They left a lot of scores after them and even worse, left three efforts in Eoin Murphy’s mitt. Extra target practice the next couple of nights will be needed.
Pat Gilroy and his selectors did little wrong, they brought players off when they looked tired and the team implemented their game plan to a T as long as they could.
Credit Brian Cody and co, they performed major surgery on their team’s make-up on the fly and put on the match-winning substitute to boot.
“He thinks it’s just bruising of his collar bone,” Gilroy said of Conal Keaney.
“Hopefully it’s not broken, but it doesn’t seem to be swelling up too badly. So hopefully he’ll be OK.
“(Donal Burke, Eamon Dillon) probably will train this week but they won’t be fit enough for next weekend. David Treacy should be Ok for next weekend. We were very much taking a precaution with him. So he will be a big plus to us.” Brian Cody said he would have to “to wait and see (for injuries).
Liam Rushe and Conal Keaney showed up well, while TJ Reid’s accuracy was a major plus for Kilkenny. Overall, though, Cillian Buckley was the man who held the Cats together: even though his man got four points Buckley was the player who drove his side on and played a captain’s role from start to finish.
Diarmuid Kirwan of Cork handled the game well but Dublin were clearly unhappy that he allowed play to develop for the Kilkenny goal, as a Dublin player appeared to be fouled just before that.
Kilkenny host Offaly while Dublin travel to Wexford.