IN decades to come, the bare statistical script will reveal the final scoreline as ‘Dublin 1-16 Kilkenny 0-16’ while confirming that ‘D Sutcliffe 1-0’ was the man who ultimately created hurling history in the summer of 2013.
Welcome to the small ball annals, Danny Sutcliffe – the player whose goal secured Dublin’s first championship victory over Kilkenny for 71 years.
What those same record books won’t reveal is how our goal hero spent the preceding week, counting down the six days (or if you prefer, 144 hours) between Dublin’s original Leinster semi-final draw on the Sunday and their stunning completion of the job in last Saturday night’s Portlaoise sequel.
“To be honest, I stayed in the house on my own all week,” Sutcliffe revealed, when asked how he dealt with all the inevitable talk that Dublin had blown their chance by failing to seal victory on day one. “I knew even my friends would be saying it was gone.”
The only course for the team itself was to ignore all this idle talk, this negative energy vibe, and focus on the game itself. “We just had to bring a good performance again and see how it went,” explained the 21-year-old wing-forward, matter-of-factly. “That’s what we have done all year – it was a good performance and thankfully it was enough.”
So to the goal itself. Kilkenny had just reduced the margin to a threadbare point and, as Sutcliffe conceded: “It was tense. There were a few frees going over and a few missed, and it’s a small margin of error.”
Then on 53 minutes came the critical riposte. Initially it appeared as if Dotsy O’Callaghan, Dublin’s first-half assassin-in-chief, would be the second-half match-winner too … until his goalbound effort was spectacularly flicked to apparent safety by Lester Ryan.
Enter Sutcliffe, who pounced on the loose ball, burst past the tackle of his direct opponent, Tommy Walsh, and then went for the jugular. Both the angle and the number of Kilkenny players taking up sentry in the square – four backs and a ‘keeper – made it a long shot, in every sense of the word.
“I don’t know how it went in with all the bodies in the way,” he admitted, “and they were all shouting at me to put it over the bar. But I said I’d chance my arm and hit it low – and thank God it went in.”
In truth, there are multiple reasons extending far beyond that decisive goal to explain why Dublin have finally managed to lay their Black-and-Amber ghost.
“It was just relentless pressure,” suggested the St Jude’s clubman. “We didn’t die off or have a lull. We matched them as much as we could, and thank God we came out the right side because many a night we have gone home on that bus after a bad beating.”
Now for the inevitable – and yet perfectly understandable – caveat. There is no cup in the Donnycarney cabinet just yet: no point in skinning the Cats if you, in turn, are then toppled by the Tribe a week later.
Galway, it should be stressed, are still 8/15 favourites, notwithstanding Dublin’s rising stock. Looking ahead to Sunday’s Leinster final date, Sutcliffe warned: “There is no point getting too excited because we’ve won nothing.”
That very same message was reinforced in the Portlaoise dressing-room by manager Anthony Daly, hence the clear sense from the Dublin players (post-match) that they weren’t getting ahead of themselves.
“We are learning, and it’s good to be in a Leinster final,” he reflected. “It’s great to be back in Croke Park, and hopefully we can produce another big performance and see how that goes.”
One last word, though, on Kilkenny. His goal heroics apart, Sutcliffe’s constant movement around the middle-third saw him snaffle up a multitude of puckout breaks during the replay. His productive shift merits even greater praise in the context of who he was marking – he of the red helmet, the legendary Tommy Walsh.
“Look, you want to test yourself against the best and he is the best – pretty much one of the best of all time. Any day you can get anything out of him is a plus for me, so I was delighted,” concluded Dublin’s history-maker.