DRAW a line through Kilkenny’s last two championship meetings with Dublin and it would appear that the Leinster and All-Ireland champions have somehow managed to improve on their impossibly high standards since 2009.
Last summer, Brian Cody’s well-oiled machine rolled past Anthony Daly’s side with six points to spare in the provincial decider. A gargantuan 19 separated the counties last month at the semi-final stage.
Alan McCrabbe tasted the pain of defeat on both those occasions but the high-scoring midfielder believes those scorelines cannot simply be taken on their own merit and without much deeper analysis.
“I don’t think they were a better side than they were last year,” he said. “I think it was just that we didn’t show up on the day and that made them look good. They are still the same side and the side there to be beaten.
“On the day, they weren’t a great side. They just made us look bad. On the day, if we had played well in the first-half we could have been drawing with them. We had a few goal opportunities of our own in the first half.
“If we had popped the ball off and taken the easy option we could have gotten a few goals ourselves in the first-half. They are going well though and they are still the team to beat.”
Judging this Kilkenny team on the basis of that one fixture would be foolish as, by McCrabbe’s own admittance, Daly’s men had all but beaten themselves long before taking to the pitch.
Their achievement in keeping the previous summer’s clash competitive until the very end stoked spiralling hopes of an historic upset within the camp and a combination of nerves and pressure got to the underdogs before the first whistle.
“It was very disappointing. We didn’t show up on the day, didn’t win any dirty ball, probably got bullied off the pitch but that’s not the way we usually play. We got too hyped up going into the match.
“We probably expected too much of ourselves and then when they scored the early goal it probably killed us off a little bit. It’s up to ourselves to get back up for the Clare game.”
By ‘ourselves’, McCrabbe means the players and not Daly. The Clareman has been tireless in his attempts to engineer a breakthrough at the senior grade for the capital side but, as McCrabbe attested to, he can only do so much. That they will face Clare in the qualifiers on Saturday week is apposite, not just because it is Daly’s own county, but because both are hoping to build on encouraging underage successes in recent years.
Dublin have amassed a tidy collection of provincial titles at minor and U21 levels while Clare hurling received a memorable and badly-needed shot in the arm with that All-Ireland U21 title last season.
“They are the same as ourselves. They have a young panel coming through and there is no holding back. It is knockout now. If you lose you are gone and hopefully we can put in the better performance, to show people that we are not bluffers.
“Hopefully we can go out on the big day and win. It’s up to us to do that on the day. I don’t think Anthony can do any more. We have sat down and had a little talk ourselves and hopefully we can get things right for next week.”
Limerick were the other possible opponents but Dublin learned little about themselves in recording six goals and a bagful of points against Justin McCarthy’s side in the league.
Pat Gilroy’s men will share the same bill at Croke Park on the evening of July 10th which means that there will be two Dublin sides looking to make amends for recent disappointments.
Whatever about the footballers, McCrabbe is adamant that the hurlers are still moving forward.
“People are saying we are gone back a step because of the league and only scraping away from relegation but we feel that we are moving on as a panel. We ran Galway close down in Galway in the league and we brought Kilkenny and Cork close. Those would be the biggest teams in the championship so we know we are making that extra step.”
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