LEINSTER SHC FINAL:
Dublin v Kilkenny
Sensible man that he is, Anthony Daly doesn’t spend as much time reading the GAA pages as he used to.
Hopefully there won’t be any regression on his part this morning. One would hate to think of the following few paragraphs upsetting his equilibrium and ruining his day.
The Dublin forward line that will take on Kilkenny tomorrow. Not a bad forward line, as will always be the case with any forward line that contains Conal Keaney, and hopefully Danny Sutcliffe, the man who almost single-handedly finished off the most celebrated right half-back career in the history of the sport, will be as fit as is practicable following his injury.
After that, though — well, it’s the kind of attack that, while it’ll take watching, is never really going to put the heart crossways in the opposition. All capable hurlers who’ll do a job, but not too many proven gamebreakers there. As has been stressed here on more than one occasion in the past, Dublin don’t pack enough gelignite in the last 30m of the field. Points from out the field are their staff of life. Their green-flag tally from the regular phase of this year’s National League read: 1, 2, 1, 1, 0. ‘Unspectacular’ is being kind.
It might not have been this way, which is the part that must secretly sting Daly. Imagine the options a fit and not-footballing Ciarán Kilkenny could have furnished on the half-forward line. Imagine the edge Cormac Costello might have supplied in the full-forward line. And imagine Diarmuid Connolly’s panoply of gifts — obvious even to casual viewers of the other code on TV — transplanted to a small-ball environment. He may not have picked up an ash plant seriously for years, but Connolly looks like one of those rare and freakish talents capable of coming in from the permafrost and acclimatising without a bother. It’s that on-field insouciance about him. He’d be the ideal man to magic those goals out of nothing. (As an aside, your correspondent harbours the belief that Sam Maguire triumphs could be become so commonplace for Dublin in a few years as to drive the best of the dual players to hurling in search of a new and infinitely more satisfying high. Fanciful? Probably.)
Still, one thing about Dublin can be taken as a given tomorrow. They’re the Leinster champions and they will, rightly, be milking that for all it’s worth. A couple of years ago they’d have spent half the week fretting about Kilkenny, second-guessing what Brian Cody might do, seeing spectres and Shefflins around every corner. Not any longer. At this stage it’s more about them. About imposing themselves, their will, their game. The monster was slain in O’Moore Park last summer. Kilkenny are no longer an ogre but merely an obstacle.
The holders’ semi-final performance was precisely that: the performance of reigning champions. Mature, balanced, unflustered. Wexford punched themselves out either side of half-time with their inaccuracy, their life force seeping away with every wide; Dublin were patient and made their arrows count. Again, not something that would have been guaranteed to happen a couple of years ago.
It’s not Wexford they’re facing here, naturally. It’s not even the Kilkenny of the drawn match with Galway they’re facing, and therein lies the rub. There is no way round this: Dublin would have been far better off with the final whistle sounding after 65 minutes in Tullamore a fortnight ago and Kilkenny winning by nine points.
No replay. No reason for a Kilkenny restructuring. No return of Brian Hogan and redeployment of Jackie Tyrrell. Liam Sheedy and Tomás Mulcahy were right to wonder on The Sunday Game what may become of Hogan and Tyrrell on a warm day at Croke Park — we did so here ourselves last Monday — but Dublin with their stand-up forwards do not ask the same questions of an enemy defence that Clare do.
Besides, Richie Hogan will have an extra half-acre tomorrow in which to press buttons and pull levers.
Kilkenny’s delivery of ball from back to front was a good deal more considered against Galway than it had been in the league final. The upshot was finishing tallies of 3-22 in the drawn game and 3-19 in the replay — a long way removed from the 1-14 and 0-16 they mustered with such difficulty versus Dublin a year ago. On the figures, then, even a conservative risk assessment would peg Kilkenny as hitting a minimum 2-20 or so here. That’s why Dublin, for all their long-range sniping prowess, will need two goals themselves as a platform.
Having built a team capable of coping with Kilkenny physically and giving it back in spades, our GAA-pages friend made history with Dublin last year — history that consecutive Leinster titles for the first time since 1941-42 would put in the ha’penny place. They’ll need to be a better team this time around to achieve it and they may well be.
But Kilkenny are a better team this time around too. That should count more.
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