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KILKENNY 3-20 DUBLIN 2-22 Epic Croke Park contest sees Dublin come up short against Kilkenny

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Eoghan O'Donnell of Dublin in action against TJ Reid of Kilkenny

Eoghan O'Donnell of Dublin in action against TJ Reid of Kilkenny

SPORTSFILE

Eoghan O'Donnell of Dublin in action against TJ Reid of Kilkenny

A TRULY remarkable and almost impossible-to-decipher contest ended in heartbreak for the Dublin hurlers in Croke Park.

At half-time Mattie Kenny’s men looked dead and buried, trailing by 15 points – 3-13 to 0-7.

After 12 soporific minutes of the second half, there was still no semblance of what was to come – Kilkenny had actually eased 16 point clear.

But then, less than convincingly at first, rattling off three points before the water break, and then eventually in a torrent of scores, Dublin found something deep inside themselves.

Either that, or Kilkenny fell prey to complacency and then couldn’t find a higher gear when this Leinster SHC semi-final transformed from an apparent mismatch into a white knuckle ride to the finish.

Either way, Brian Cody’s men completely lost their way. A 57th minute goal from Dublin sub Ronan Hayes cut the deficit to eight.

Then eight minutes later, Chris Crummey batted home the rebound, one-handed, after Donal Burke’s first shot had been saved by Eoin Murphy – and the margin was down to four.

Incredibly, the resurgent Dubs hit the next four points via a Burke free, a brace from super-sub Eamonn Dillon and a 71st minute equaliser from centre-back Daire Grey.

But it was not to be. Shaken and stirred, Kilkenny reclaimed momentum at the death with points from sub Alan Murphy and Huw Lawlor, but there was still time for some last-gasp drama as Burke nailed a free for his 12th point and then, from just outside his own ‘45’, the Na Fianna man’s attempted deadball equaliser fell tantalisingly short.

And so the final whistle sounded on Dublin’s provincial ambitions, and they must settle for a back door assault whereas Kilkenny stumble on to the final in a fortnight.

It was all such a far cry from that lopsided first half. History was stacked against a county that could only boast one championship win over the Black-and-Amber in 78 years, but the Covid fixture gods had conspired to give Dublin a 70-minute head-start on their vaunted rivals, in the guise of last weekend’s prolific dismissal of Laois.

Kilkenny’s last competitive outing was also against Laois – almost eight months ago.

As a grimly one-sided first half unfolded, you’d never have guessed that Brian Cody’s Cats had been so long in cold storage.

The last play of the first half, three minutes into injury time, concluded with Colin Fennelly racing away from three despairing blue jerseys before placing a low shot beyond Alan Nolan.

One of those three, Eoghan O’Donnell, was booked for his vain attempt to halt the Kilkenny captain by foul means. It made not a whit of difference, symptomatic of a half in which everything that could go wrong for Dublin went even more hideously awry.

Mind you, once they got motoring, Kilkenny were magnificent. This was top-of-the-ground summer hurling against a Halloween backdrop.

Dublin, with Chris Crummey and late call-up Liam Rushe seeking to provide a double-edged aerial threat in the full-forward line, had actually started breezily enough and fine efforts from Donal Burke and Cian Boland edged them 0-3 to 0-2 ahead after eight minutes.

But then all those familiar Kilkenny traits – tenacity, razor-sharp hounding of the man in possession, brilliant movement and sheer ruthlessness – came to the fore.

They had already edged one ahead when two goals inside a minute – Billy Ryan on 13 minutes, TJ Reid in the next move – left clear daylight between the sides.

Reid was the architect for that first goal, pickpocketing a Dublin defender before feeding his clubmate, Fennelly, who in turn passed to Ryan for a bullet finish high to the Hill 16 net.

Less than a minute later, a high delivery had the Dublin defence in disarray once more. The irrepressible Reid was first to react to the breaking ball, getting on the wrong side of his flailing shadow, James Madden. Presented with a clear run on goal, the veteran scoresmith exacted maximum damage with a clever batted finish.

Reid added a free to leave Kilkenny 2-6 to 0-4 clear at the water break. Dublin briefly rallied through points from skipper Danny Sutcliffe and Daire Gray, but even that second score summed up Dublin’s first half as, just seconds earlier, a pressurised Crummey had failed to connect properly and his goal chance came to nothing.

SCORERS – Kilkenny: TJ Reid 1-10 (6f), B Ryan, C Fennelly 1-1 each, J Donnelly, W Walsh 0-2 each, E Cody C Delaney, A Murphy, H Lawlor 0-1 each. Dublin: D Burke 0-12 (10f), E Dillon 0-4, C Crummey 1-1, R Hayes 1-0, C Boland, D Gray 0-2 each, D Sutcliffe 0-1.

KILKENNY: E Murphy; H Lawlor, C Wallace, C Delaney; C Buckley, P Deegan, P Walsh; R Reid, C Fogarty; J Donnelly, E Cody, W Walsh; TJ Reid, B Ryan, C Fennelly. Subs: R Hogan for Ryan (51), M Keogan for Cody (60), C Browne for Fogarty (64), A Murphy for Donnelly (64), R Leahy for R Reid (68).

DUBLIN: A Nolan; E O’Donnell, C O’Callaghan, J Madden; D Gray, P Smyth, C Burke; S Moran, R McBride; C Boland, D Burke, D Sutcliffe; C Crummey, D Keogh, L Rushe. Subs: E Dillon for Keogh (ht), R Hayes for Rushe (41), J Malone for Moran (50), M Schutte for Boland (59), F Whitely for McBride (70).

REF: J Murphy (Limerick)

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