The last time a competition ended like this, it must have been the OK Corral in 1881.
After the gunsmoke cleared in Nowlan Park yesterday, Kilkenny’s late goal from Matthew Ruth had won this superb Division 1A game with Dublin, which served up more talking points than a Twitterfest on the Frontline.
Dublin helped themselves to six goals against Kilkenny but were eventually undone by Ryan O’Dwyer’s second-half dismissal, which left them under huge pressure as the game ended. They shipped four goals in that last quarter, with Ruth’s match-winner arriving with the inevitability of a classical tragedy’s conclusion.
Dubs boss Anthony Daly had to be happy with the first half — his side settled early with Paul Ryan points, and on nine minutes he got on the end of a Conor McCormack delivery to touch home a good goal; the only downside was the hamstring injury Ryan sustained while scoring, which forced him off a minute later.
Richie Power and Aidan Fogarty rallied Kilkenny, but points by McCrabbe and Danny Sutcliffe (two) had Dublin 1-7 to 0-4 ahead on 20 minutes.
Power hit two more points before Dublin goaled again — Joey Boland and Liam Rushe linked well to set up Sutcliffe, who gave David Herity no chance from close range. Sutcliffe added a point before Kilkenny retaliated in classic form — Richie Hogan’s crossfield ball was killed brilliantly by Fogarty, who finished low to the corner, 2-8 to 1-6.
Power and Eoin Larkin inched Kilkenny closer, but with the last puck of the half, David O’Callaghan got a ball from the end-line to the 21, where McCormack collected and crashed home Dublin’s third goal: 3-8 to 1-9 at the half.
They began the second half the same way, with David O’Callaghan goaling within seconds of the throw-in, but on 42 minutes came Ryan O’Dwyer’s second yellow.
“I wasn’t sure,” said Daly, “I thought he went in open rather than with his shoulder dipped, but I haven’t seen it on video yet. Ryan certainly felt hard done by.”
Dublin didn’t cave in. They tried to avoid free man Paul Murphy, and Alan McCrabbe swapped points with Eoin Larkin and Richie Power, and then, on 54 minutes, Sutcliffe got another goal: 5-10 to 1-14.
Crucially for Kilkenny, Colin Fennelly shovelled home a goal almost on the puck-out. Dublin had points from Liam Rushe and Maurice O’Brien, but Kilkenny scented blood: Power pointed and then Richie Hogan goaled after a fine solo run, 3-15 to 5-12.
Incredibly, within seconds of Hogan’s goal Dublin sub Eamonn Dillon fielded, soloed through and goaled himself: 3-15 to 6-12 on 65 minutes.
Hogan had a point, Richie Power hammered home a goal and with the clock edging to 70 minutes. Hogan popped the ball to Ruth, driving down the right, to slam home the match winner.
Dublin hunted an equaliser but couldn’t work an opening and the final whistle brought a huge ovation for both sides.
“Physically, if we had Stephen Hiney, Peter Kelly, Tomas Brady in that backline...” said Daly later. “We were shoved off it a bit towards the end but look, you don’t need me to tell you how good Kilkenny are in the air.
“But we might see each other again, hopefully, later in the year and we’ll see if we can do a bit better.”
Brian Cody said he was conscious that Dublin had 14 men for most of the second half, pointing out that was bound to tell eventually.
“Every game is competitive, we have two games coming up and they’ll be terrific battles too, so this was great preparation. A good match for this time of the year.”
Asked if his defenders would get extra laps in training, Cody smiled and said no, pointing to their sterling service over many years.
However, he added: “It’s not a question of individual fault. You defend all over the field and at several stages of the game we probably weren’t doing enough of that.”
Managers all over the country are probably thanking Anthony Daly even now for that reminder to Cody to work his players harder.
Anyone in Nowlan Park yesterday, though, was thanking both men, and their players, for the feast they served up.
Scorers for Kilkenny: R. Power 1-8 (5fs, 1 65), R Hogan 1-3, A Fogarty 1-1, M Ruth, C Fennelly 1-0 each, E Larkin 0-3, TJ Reid 0-1.
Scorers for Dublin: D Sutcliffe 2-3, P Ryan 1-3 (2fs), A McCrabbe 0-4 (3fs), C McCormack, E Dillon, D O’Callaghan 1-0 each, L Rushe, M O’Brien 0-1 each.
Subs: M Ruth for Fogarty (53), J Tyrrell for Delaney (56), J Mulhall for C. Fennelly (60).
Subs: M O’Brien for Durkin (48), E. Dillon for D O’Callaghan (48), D Treacy for Lambert (65).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath)
Attendance: 5,571, though you will probably meet a lot of people in the future who’ll claim to have been there.
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