A strong first-half performance, during which they took an 11-point lead against the wind, put Leinster on the road to their 27th title in yesterday’s M Donnelly decider at Nowlan Park.
Connacht got more into the game after the break, but they never looked like saving the day against a Leinster team that appeared to have more gears to engage if they had to. For the 658 hardy souls who braved the biting wind, the fare was no more than average.
“The job was done during the first half,” said Leinster manager Joe Dooley. “We played very well and picked off some great scores. With a bit of luck, we could have scored another goal or two.
“The players really enjoyed it. Every player we asked to get involved from the first day answered the call, so the enthusiasm for the competition is there among the players. We beat Munster and Connacht, so no one can say we didn’t do it the hard way.”
The winners, with eight Kilkenny players in the starting 15, took a firm grip once Ryan O’Dwyer bagged a goal in the 11th minute. That score left Connacht 1-5 to 0-3 down, and further points were conceded to Richie Power (free), Joe Bergin and Shane Dooley.
A foul on Barry Daly gifted Conor Cooney the opportunity to stop the rot for Connacht with a free. But four more points on the trot from the winners, through Power (3) and Dooley, left the Westerners struggling for inspiration.
Leinster were 1-12 to 0-5 clear heading into the closing 10 minutes of the half. Then they bagged a second goal through Dublin’s O’Dwyer after superb inter-play between Dooley and Eoin Larkin.
That goal helped Leinster into a commanding interval lead of 2-13 to 0-8 and, as they had the advantage of the elements to come, the contest was as good as decided. Leinster resumed with points from Power and Larkin, but they appeared to relax a bit after that. Connacht took advantage.
After Cooney converted a free, Damien Hayes flicked the ball to the net in a race for possession against sub goalie David Herity after a well-placed delivery from Joseph Cooney (2-15 to 1-9).
Power and Conor Cooney then traded points, and even when Connacht added four of the next five, they never got within striking distance of a team that didn’t push itself nearing the finish.
SCORERS — Leinster: R Power 0-10 (8f, 1 ’65), R O’Dwyer 2-2, S Dooley 0-3, J Bergin, E Larkin 0-2 each. Connacht: C Cooney 0-9 (8f), D Hayes 1-1, B Burke 0-3, I Tannian, D Burke 0-1 each.
LEINSTER — G Maguire; P Murphy, K Rossiter, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, N Corcoran, R Hanniffy; M Rice, M Fennelly; R Power, J Bergin, E Larkin; S Dooley, R O’Dwyer, TJ Reid. Subs: D Herity for Maguire (h-t), B Murtagh for O’Dwyer (48), P Ryan for Reid (49), R Jacob for Dooley (61), D Kenny for Corcoran (61).
CONNACHT — J Ryan; P Shiel, D Collins, G O’Halloran; N Donoghue, F Moore, J Cooney; A Harte, J Grealish; J Coen, C Cooney, I Tannian; B Burke, B Daly, D Burke. Subs: P Gordon for Grealish (33), D Hayes for Coen (h-t), J Regan for Tannian (41), D Glennon for B Daly (47), K Raymond for N Donoghue (59).
REF — C Lyons (Cork).