The Cats claw Dubs back
SO then, another humdrum league game in the middle of March? Nothing to report from Nowlan Park bar the predictable accumulation of two more points for Brian Cody's all-conquering Cats?
If only life were so logical. Yesterday, those 5,571 patrons privileged enough to be there bore witness to one of those madcap classics that happen once in a blue moon.
"A crazy game," admitted Brian Cody, as Kilkenny 'statos' searched frantically for the last time a Black-and-Amber outfit who don't play football leaked six goals on the one afternoon. "Freakish" was the adjective favoured by Anthony Daly to describe the result.
And the most outlandish part of all? Kilkenny somehow conspired to win it at the death, leaving 14 physically shattered Dubs in a state of mental anguish. How could they hurl with such full-blooded ferocity, not to mention predatory incision, and come away on the wrong end of a one-point defeat?
"I'd say it was a great game if you were a neutral," said Daly, "but hard when you're in the middle of it. But you have to keep remembering it's a league game. If you lost a championship match like that, you'd be devastated."
The Clareman is right to accentuate the positives because, in fairness, his depleted Dubs played out of their collective skins until those closing minutes when they resembled a punch-drunk boxer with one eye closed, barely able to see where the next flailing fist was coming from.
They were playing against the numerical odds from the 43rd minute, when Ryan O'Dwyer's frontal challenge on Richie Power earned a second yellow from referee Barry Kelly.
The gung-ho visitors led, deservedly, by six points at the time. When Danny Sutcliffe weaved in from the right, along the end line, to pilfer his second goal after 54 minutes, they actually led by eight.
From there to the finish, the frenzy quotient multiplied. Colin Fennelly replied straight away with Kilkenny's second goal, pouncing on a rebound after Dublin 'keeper Alan Nolan (deputising for injured All Star Gary Maguire) had saved from Richie Power.
When Richie Hogan, a central figure in Kilkenny's late victory charge, emerged from a thicket of bodies to bury a thunderous 64th-minute goal, the gap was down to three. Cue an instant riposte from Dublin sub Eamon Dillon, his soaring catch matched by a pinpoint finish.
Six up, surely home and hosed? Not quite, as a Hogan point was followed up by a Power goal (67 minutes) before Hogan released substitute Matthew Ruth for the game's 11th and decisive goal. The clock read 69 minutes and 20 seconds, and a Dublin team out on their feet couldn't summon up an equaliser in the two minutes of stoppage time allowed. Watching from the sanctuary of the press box, the impression lingered that playing with 14 men for almost half-an-hour finally sapped Dublin's resistance in those dying minutes.
And yet, strange as it may seem, some of their best performers were in defence: Joey Boland was consistently heroic at centre-back; Niall Corcoran was frequently first to the ball; and skipper Johnny McCaffrey, shifted to wing-back, made some vital interceptions as the home side threatened.
At the other end, Paul Ryan hit the ground running before suffering a hamstring injury in the act of finishing a 10th-minute goal via an exquisite overhead flick. He departed soon after and looks highly unlikely to feature against Tipperary in Croke Park next Saturday evening.
In his absence, Sutcliffe caught fire for the second week running. The St Jude's rookie took no less a man than Tommy Walsh for 2-3 from play; he capped an especially impressive first half with a clean puckout catch in the build-up to Conor McCormack's injury-time goal.
In summation, this was light years removed from Dublin's Division 1A opener, a listless defeat in Galway, and a further step-up on last weekend's luckless one-point loss to Cork.
"In fairness to them (Kilkenny), they seem to have a gear all the time that they can go to," said Daly.
"It would have been great to get two points, because we're in a relegation dogfight certainly now. But we'll try and pick up the pieces and get ready for next week."
Even at the final whistle, the drama wasn't over with reports that Daly was accosted by a 'supporter' -- but the Dublin manager declined to comment, making light of the incident.
Outside the Kilkenny dressing-room, meanwhile, we had the weird scenario of a winning manager being asked to conduct a post-mortem.
This alarmingly porous performance had echoes of the five goals leaked to Galway in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final but never before had they conceded six on Cody's watch: for that, we suspect, you may have to go back to the drawn Leinster final of 1972 against Wexford.
"A fair amount of players really stood up to the battle and refused to give in really. That was the key to it more than anything," Cody declared.
"There are things we couldn't be happy about today," he added, and you didn't have to ask what exactly. But Cody laughed off the notion of giving extra laps to his decorated defenders this week, saying: "Our backs have been outstanding over many years for us ... it's not a question of individual fault. You defend all over the field and at several stages we weren't doing enough of it."