10 hours ago By Niall Kelly of TheJournal.ie
Dublin defend their Leinster title against the men who have ruled supreme for so many years. Here’s what we’ll be talking about between now and Sunday.
IF THE BOOKIES’ odds were your only guide, you would be forgiven for presuming that it is Kilkenny, not Dublin, who are the reigning Leinster champions.
The Cats’ are 1/2 favourites to take back their throne on Sunday, a price which is based as much on their historical stranglehold over the province as it is on the expectation that they are back to their best.
But the balance of power is tilting and whereas once Dublin would have been happy just to get close to Cody’s Cats, now they see themselves as genuine rivals.
That confidence, fuelled by last summer’s semi-final win and another in the league this spring, will be one of Anthony Daly’s greatest legacies — but now they need to add the medals to match.
2. Battle-hardened Kilkenny vs fresh Dubs
This time last year, Anthony Daly was fielding countless questions about whether Dublin could up their game for a fifth straight week on the bounce. Replays against both Wexford and Kilkenny were expected to take their toll but the Dubs saved their best for last, blitzing Galway with 2-25 to end a 42-year provincial famine.
Now the roles are reversed and Dublin arrive for their first game in Headquarters with just one game under their belt. They controlled matters against Wexford three weeks ago without ever running away with things and, crucially, didn’t panic when their opponents rallied late on.
Kilkenny on the other hand are widely expected to improve again following two tough tests against Galway in the last fortnight. Brian Cody shocked everyone when he made five changes for the replay but the calculated risk paid dividends, even if Kilkenny lacked the ruthless streak to make the game safe before TJ Reid capped another magnificent performance with his second goal late on.
3. The generation game
After a league campaign rife with chopping and changing, trial and experiment, the restoration of the Kilkenny old guard turned out to be crucial against Galway. For the first time this season Brian Hogan, Jackie Tyrrell, JJ Delaney and Tommy Walsh started on the same team — with Walsh in at wing-forward.
The question now is does Cody stick with the tried and trusted faces who served him so well in seasons past? And if he does, how will the older legs keep pace with a Dublin attack that will surely look to stretch them out towards the sidelines and take advantage?
4. Does Danny Sutcliffe start — and how fit is he?
All of the noise from the Dublin camp this week points towards the return of Danny Sutcliffe on Sunday. A fractured hand ruled him out of the Wexford win but he resumed training last weekend and, in the words of his manager, “is mad for road.”
If Sutcliffe plays, it will be interesting to see if he operates at 100%. He was one of the leading lights against Kilkenny last season and again in the spring when he gave Tommy Walsh the runaround and posted 1-5 in a man of the match performance.
In a game that could break down into a war of attrition in the middle third, Dublin will need him to be at his best.
5. Goals win games — and Kilkenny rule supreme
Consider these numbers. In 10 league and Championship games this season, Kilkenny have scored a massive 32 goals — and don’t let Galway’s five-goal haul in the drawn game fool you into thinking that they’re just as porous at the other end; in seven of those 10 games, they’ve either kept a clean sheet or conceded just once.
Dublin, on the other hand, have only managed nine goals in seven games — with four of those coming in the relegation play-off.
Writing in the Irish Examiner a fortnight ago, Donal Óg Cusack urged Dublin to “start letting the virtuoso guys play the piano a bit” — to find a way to get Sutcliffe, Conal Keaney and other clinical finishers towards goal and let them do their thing.
We know that Kilkenny can rack up the goals, but can Dublin win if they don’t keep pace?