Rampant Kilkenny half-back line sets platform for victory
The pregame notes ahead of the opening championship appearance of reigning All Ireland Senior Hurling Champions Kilkenny was a theme of vulnerability stemming from that shock loss to Clare in the NHL semi-final, a performance which saw the Cats second best in physicality, pace and being punished for exposing their full back line throughout. A totally unexpected U21 Hurling loss to Westmeath two weeks ago in Mullingar suggested that Dublin had a sniff of an upset in a balmy Portlaoise.
However, those media critique words were used to good effect in the Kilkenny dressing room as they took Dublin apart line by line and were emphatic 1-25 to 0-16 victory. The platform for this success built on an outstanding Kilkenny half-back line performance who dominated Dublin’s half-forward line throughout. Walsh, Joyce and Buckley were on top form and nullified the threat of McMorrow at half-forward, starved the Dublin inside forward line of ball in that second half.
Dublin have failed to deliver in the Leinster SHC yet again. The half-forward line issues which were apparent as soon as the ball was thrown in by match official Brian Gavin quickly spread to the midfield area and the Dublin back line who tried manfully to stem the threat of Kilkenny forward line in the opening period were breached at regular intervals in the second half. Jonjo Farrell to the fore with an early second half goal to kill the game as a contest.
Kilkenny will be pleased with the workout; issues in the first half emerged in the full back line where Lennon and Holden were struggling to get to grips with Dotsy O’Callaghan and Eamonn Dillon whose pace and runs from deep where causing massive problems. Lennon admirably stuck to his task but Holden was exposed throughout particularly under the high dropping ball, something teams will look to expose during the summer. Brian Cody and management team will need to address this, better to see it now than in August.
Kilkenny oozed class in that second half period. The usual suspects stood up and were ably assisted by Farrell who chipped in with 1-05 from play. TJ Reid and Michael Fennelly skill and physicality stood out in that second period, five scores on the restart set the tone and Dublin were unable to respond. Kilkenny strike an ominous message to the rest of the competition; there may be issues in the full back line but everywhere else looks incredibly well oiled on that showing.
Where now for Dublin? Ger Cunningham has utterly failed to implement a game plan which makes best use of the likes of Liam Rushe, Eamonn Dillion and Danny Sutcliffe who decided to opt out of the panel this season. The half-forward line performance was one of the worse line displays in the championship this season. McMorrow caused more issues for Dublin going further deep for ball allowing Kieran Joyce free reign to mop up Dublin clearances. The wing forwards were equally ill-equipped to combat Walsh and Buckley who chipped in with a couple of scores to rub salt into the Dublin wound.
The sight of Ryan O’Dwyer in the starting lineup does little to suggest that there is underage talent coming through the senior ranks. Cunningham is on the brink, the good work of Anthony Daly prior to the Cork man taking the reins is looking like it has regressed. Worrying signs for Dublin and it could be a short summer if they are pitted against Clare in the qualifiers. When your best half-forward option is watching the game in the stands, you have to ask why this is the case? Dublin camp is not as united as was suggested and the towel was thrown in quickly in the second half.
The only bright spot for Dublin hurling is the emergence of Eoin O’Donnell who had a superb outing at wing back. He faced an arduous task trying to contend with the likes of Walter Walsh but his tight man marking style and awareness of space to distribute clearances to his forward line caught the eye, something other Dublin players failed to do aimlessly hitting long clearances down the throat of the Kilkenny half-back line throughout. A faint bright spot in the midst of a gloomy outlook for Dublin Senior Hurlers this season.