Conductor of the orchestra finally completes score

Ciaran Kilkenny had scratched plenty off his bucket list before this.

Conductor of the orchestra finally completes score

Ciaran Kilkenny had scratched plenty off his bucket list before this.

A four-time senior All-Ireland winner and two-time All- Star, he had pawed plenty of other silver down the years through his involvement with Castleknock and various county underage sides. In football and in hurling. All that and a four-month stint with Hawthorn along with it.

Not bad for a 25-year old.

What he had yet to do, incredible as it seems, was score in an All-Ireland senior final. Mad, right? How could a player that damn good not raise a white or green flag through the course of almost 400 minutes, across five games, including the replay against Mayo in 2016?

Kilkenny’s importance to Dublin was never in question. Widely held to be the most influential outfield player on the team, he was labelled as the ‘conductor of the Sky Blue orchestra’ in a profile piece for yesterday’s match programme.

Few build-ups have been so littered with talk and type dedicated to tactics and match-ups and predictions that Kilkenny would be chaperoned yesterday by Pádraig Hampsey seemed to dominate a good 50% of all that. Yet his hand in previous deciders had been light to the touch.

Kilkenny started on the edge of the square in 2013. His first final. Given freedom to roam, he was picked up by Cathal Barrett and pulled in favour of Dean Rock after just 42 minutes. Opinions on his input have been, well, mixed in Septembers since.

Nobody shot the lights out in 2015 when Kerry were beaten, and he was stationed further back on the half-back line for the draw and replay with Mayo a year later.

Though effective in those games, he wasn’t by any means the star.

Last year looked like the time to change that.

The value of his 53 possessions against Monaghan, and the 62 against Tyrone, had been keenly debated prior to another meeting with Mayo. Lee Keegan’s suffocating turn on him all but stripped them of any currency.

Look at it like that and that back catalogue brings to mind the curious case of DJ Carey who, fairly or not, had to contend with critics claiming that he had never ‘done it’ in All-Ireland finals until the day in 2000 when he landed 1-4 against Offaly.

Ciaran Kilkenny never had to counter such qualifiers to his burgeoning greatness and never will now given he landed his first score in an All-Ireland decider after 18 minutes yesterday and followed it up with two more from play after the interval.

With a strong body of work built up all year, and a tally of 2-21 to his name in the championship prior to yesterday’s contribution, the likelihood is that it will be enough to earn him the accolade of player of the year. A third All Star is a given.

How good was he here? Good but not great. Kilkenny didn’t touch the ball for the first dozen minutes.

Shepherded at all times by Tiernan McCann, he eventually worked his way into the game. A touch here, a run there. It all went into the bank.

Watching Kilkenny grow into the game, shuttling ever further back to defend or pick up a ball and start a move or keep one ticking along was to apprciate all the more the job that Keegan had done in keeping him so quiet for so long 12 months ago.

Look back through the second quarter of this game, the period when Dublin turned a four-point deficit into a seven-point advantage, and Kilkenny is invariably in the frame, if not as the main protagonist then as an accessory to the fact.

It was his first point that kickstarted the Dublin comeback, his simple pass that started the move leading to Paul Mannion’s penalty, his pass that set up Dean Rock for Dublin’s third point, his link play that tied together Jack McCaffrey’s point after 26 minutes.

There is very little he does that elicits a gasp. Kilkenny is no Diarmuid Connolly. He won’t let one fly over the bar with the outside of the boot, there are no tricks to his trade. He is, at a base level, simply the best nuts and bolts man in the game. A master of the mundane.

In that he is Dublin incarnate.

PaperTalk GAA Podcast: Stand by for seven in a row but Dubs are still good for the game

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up