Kevin O’Brien reports from Nowlan Park

DURING THE FINAL seconds yesterday in Nowlan Park, Dublin desperately tried to claw back a goal but found the area in front of Darren Brennan’s posts flooded with black and amber jerseys. 

Tommy Walsh, Paddy Deegan Pul Murphy tackle Liam Rushe.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

After a meaner performance in the second period where they went from four down to five clear, Kilkenny weren’t in any mood to let this one slip.

They may no longer be the dominant force they were a decade ago, but Kilkenny have lost none of their hunger and appetite for work – the hallmarks of Brian Cody teams. When they dialled up the heat in the second-half and ramped up the physicality, Dublin’s chances of a second championship victory over the Cats in 77 years soon dissipated.

“We’re very, very happy to come away with the two points in the bag,” Brian Cody said.

“We knew, I said it many times, it was going to be a huge challenge from Dublin. They’re a top quality team and they certainly proved that. They proved that right throughout the game.

“I think the second half performance in every single way was upped. I thought the attitude was good from the start but the attitude got stronger and the work-rate throughout the field was top class.

“We just played very, very well I suppose and we had to because right up to the very, very end, there was a couple of high balls went in in the last five minutes of injury time there, high balls going into the square, a goal can come from these situations very, very easily. But we were strong, we defended well and we saw out the game.”

Cody’s team showed five debutants and were without the spine of their defence – Conor Delaney and Cillian Buckley – plus All-Star goalkeeper Eoin Murphy. He started with Paddy Deegan at full-back and Huw Lawlor at 6, but Dublin were the better team in the opening period.

Huw Lawlor chases after Fergal Whitely.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Wing-forward Fergal Whitely played as a third midfielder, leaving oceans of space in front of attacker Paul Ryan for the visitors to drop crossfield ball into. Danny Sutcliffe looked lively at centre-forward and on the edge of the square Liam Rushe won two first-half penalties that drew 1-1 from the stick of Sean Moran. 

Recognising the problems at the break, Cody withdrew right-half back Enda Morrissey and moved Deegan onto the wing. Lawlor went to full-back and Padraig Walsh to centre-back, with Richie Leahy introduced at midfield.

Cody’s plan B worked a charm. Walsh tracked Sutcliffe’s dangerous runs and made a few spectacular catches in defence, while Lawlor kept Rushe under wraps and Leahy broke forward for two excellent scores from centre-field.

“Padraig Walsh going back in the half-back line, he drove a lot of ball there and set-up a lot of attacks from there,” said Dublin manager Mattie Kenny.

“A couple of substitutions made a big impact for them as well.”

Considering Delaney suffered a broken leg and Buckley has been battling a persistent knee issue, Cody might have stumbled on his best formula for the games ahead. He admitted “there’s not a hope” any of the injured contingent will return in time for next weekend’s visit to Carlow. 

Of his half-time substitutions, Cody said: “They benefited the team I suppose and sometimes you do things and they work, they mightn’t work.

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“It wasn’t about that, I think it was about everybody on the field just lifting their game and that allowed everybody to settle that extra little bit. There were some very, very good performances but I think again it was the work that was done by every single player on the field.”

TJ Reid scores their second goal with a penalty.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Up front, Kilkenny started to turn over the Dublin defenders and had TJ Reid in deadly form, while Walter Walsh looked busy and was involved in several good moves. Dublin controlled the airwaves and physically bullied the Cats in the opening period, but Kilkenny increased the aggression levels after half-time.

The work-rate left their manager purring afterwards.

“As a collective, you don’t defend just with your backs. The work rate of the forwards was top class. It was a collective thing right throughout the field and the attitude was very, very strong.”

Over half of Kilkenny’s tally arrived from Reid’s placed balls in a game where whistle-happy Cork referee Cathal McAllister didn’t allow the game to flow all that often. 

Despite the absence of key man Murphy – who’ll miss the Leinster championship with a knee injury – Kilkenny retained 70% of Brennan’s puck-outs yesterday. In contrast, Dublin retained 58% of Alan Nolan’s restarts.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kenny’s assessment was that Dublin went too direct after the restart, instead of working the ball through the lines.

“We were in a reasonably healthy position going in at half-time. Ten minutes after half-time we kind of maintained that position but then Kilkenny got a goal and from that we started going too direct and too route-one.

“That gave their backs a chance to mop up the possession and build out. They had a bit more space to attack in the second-half rather than the first.

“That’s a thing I try to coach a lot, that would be big in my philosophy of hurling – that you build your attacks.

“In the last 20 minutes we went too much route one, and that allowed the Kilkenny backs to sit back, eat up that possession. Then when they were coming out, they had more space to attack into.

“I think Dublin built some lovely scores in the first half and we just needed to maintain that approach and have the mental discipline to keep doing that.”

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