By Vincent Hogan
Monday March 19 2012
This great, lurching fairground ride in Nowlan Park led sane men to a futile dig for language commensurate to the day.
“Freakish,” gasped Anthony Daly. “Crazy,” chuckled Brian Cody. The rest of us just slipped away, grins tattooed to faces, heads full of useless nuts and bolts left loosened by the G-forces. No-one could readily put a date on the last time Kilkenny leaked half a dozen goals in a single afternoon.
Yet, even with the narrative a basket case, they won. They are unbeaten and stay top of the National League. Go figure.
Ryan O’Dwyer’s second yellow card less than ten minutes into the second half can’t have helped Dublin and, yet, there certainly didn’t seem any malevolent intent in his collision with Richie Power. That said, they looked to have ridden out that storm. With six minutes remaining, just after Richie Hogan had goaled for Kilkenny, young Dublin substitute Eamonn Dillon made a wonderful fetch at the O’Loughlin’s end and buried a scarcely believable sixth goal for Anthony Daly’s team.
And the noise in the ground was a kind of disbelieving hiss. The scoreboard read Dublin 6-12; Kilkenny 3-15. People stared at one another, as if the ground was swaying.
And maybe lost in the general giddiness was the plain familiarity of what followed. Kilkenny dipped beneath the floorboards of their resolve, summoning an unanswered 2-1 to win by the narrowest margin. They had stolen a game that — to the naked eye — looked out of reach.
“You can never write them off,” sighed Daly. “In fairness, they seem to have a gear that they can go to all the time.”
So where to start? The game sustained an illusion of normality for maybe ten minutes until Paul Ryan got a nick on a high delivery above Paul Murphy‘s head and David Herity was bending to pick the ball from the Kilkenny net. Ryan soon departed with a hamstring injury, but Dublin were hurling with an intensity that seemed a straight reprise of last year’s League final.
Young Danny Sutcliffe was the pick of their forwards. He had already sniped two points off Tommy Walsh when he got on the end of a smart move to finish confidently past Herity after 27 minutes. Typically, Kilkenny responded almost instantly when Richie Hogan’s clever diagonal pass got Aidan Fogarty away from Niall Corcoran and the Emeralds man supplied a classy finish.
Yet, there was no denying the discomfort in the Kilkenny backline. Two minutes into added time, Alan McCrabbe got behind Paul Murphy near the end-line and his pass to Conor McCormack offered an amount of time and elbow-room not commonly available in that precinct. McCormack couldn’t miss and didn’t.
By now, Cody had re-jigged his misfiring forwards with Hogan and Eoin Larkin brought out the field in an effort to improve ball-winning capabilities in the middle third.
It would work too but only gradually. Seconds after the resumption, McCormack set up ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan for a fourth Dublin goal. They led by eight.
Soon after, O’Dwyer got his second yellow, yet there was nothing in Dublin’s body language to suggest pessimism. The backs were hurling magnificently, particularly Joey Boland at the harbour-mouth to goal, and the work-rate of their midfield and attack spoke of a team working in absolute harmony.
When, with 15 minutes remaining, Sutcliffe waltzed in along the end-line and flicked home his second goal, a light local anger began to bubble in the old stand. Yet, true to form, Kilkenny won the puck-out, Richie Power charged forward and the ball ended up in Colin Fennelly’s hands for an easy finish.
For every Dublin step forward, Kilkenny were conspicuously seen to follow. In the end, maybe nothing more technical than sheer force of will got them home intact. Hogan got on the puck-out after Dillon’s goal to score a point and, almost instantly, Tommy Walsh drove a ball down the Dublin’s throat only for Power to materialise in behind Alan Nolan and goal easily.
Then, with the crowd over-heating, Hogan set up substitute Matt Ruth for a winning goal that was greeted by locals in the 5,571 attendance like a gem delivered on a September Sunday in Croke Park.
“I’d say ’twas a great game if you’re a neutral, but hard when you’re in the middle of it,” sighed Daly later. “Have to keep remembering it’s a League game, I suppose. If you lost a Championship match like that, you’d be devastated. But it’s a hard one to take, we’re in a relegation dogfight certainly now. Still, if you can bottle these disappointments maybe and use them later on in the year when it comes to the real stuff … ”
Given their list of absentees, men like Peter Kelly, Stephen Hiney, Tomas Brady and Conal Keaney watching from the stands, Dublin’s performance had been nothing short of extraordinary.
“Look,” said Daly, “we think we can compete at this level. We’re National League champions, though it doesn’t look like we’ll be holding onto that title now. But until it’s given over to someone else, I suppose we’re still the champions.”
Cody, not for the first time, expressed admiration for the quality of Dublin’s hurling.
“Every single aspect of their play was excellent,” he reflected. “Look I’m just so aware of the quality in Dublin. It’s serious. They’re assembling a panel of players that are just outstanding.”
The technician in him, you could tell, would be busy breaking down the forensic.
“Well, obviously, we don’t want to be conceding six goals, but we kept at it,” smiled the Kilkenny manager. “But full credit to the lads, they just never gave up. A fair amount of players really stood up to the battle and refused to give in really, which was the key to it more than anything.
“There’s things we couldn’t be happy about today for certain. But the spirit was intact. When we appeared to be on our knees, a few players came to the fore and dragged other lads with them. When a team has that, you have a lot.”
Man of the Match: D Sutcliffe (Dub)
SCORERS — Kilkenny: R Power 1-8 (5f, 1 ’65), R Hogan 1-3, A Fogarty 1-1, E Larkin 0-3, C Fennelly, M Ruth 1-0 each, TJ Reid 0-1. Dublin: D Sutcliffe 2-3, P Ryan 1-3 (2f), A McCrabbe 0-4 (3f), C McCormack, D O’Callaghan, E Dillon 1-0 each, M O’Brien, L Rushe 0-1 each.
KILKENNY — D Herity 6; P Murphy 7, JJ Delaney 6, N Hickey 7; T Walsh 6, B Hogan 7, R Doyle 7; M Fennelly 5, M Rice 5; TJ Reid 5, R Power 8, C Fennelly 5; R Hogan 8, E Larkin 8, A Fogarty 7. Subs: M Ruth 7 for Fogarty (53), J Tyrrell 6 for Delaney (57), J Mulhall 6 for C Fennelly (61).
DUBLIN — A Nolan 6; N Corcoran 7, P Schutte 7, R Trainor 7; M Carton 7, J Boland 8, J McCaffrey 7; S Lambert 7, S Durkin 7; C McCormack 6, R O’Dwyer 6, D Sutcliffe 8; D O’Callaghan 5, L Rushe 6, P Ryan 6. Subs: A McCrabbe 7 for Ryan (14), E Dillon 7 for O’Callaghan (48), M O’Brien 6 for Durkin (48), D Treacy for Lambert (65), S Stapleton for McCormack (68).
Ref — B Kelly (Westmeath)
– Vincent Hogan