Dubs still have gap to bridge
Improved second half will lift the Blue mood for Limerick tie ... but a Reid-inspired Kilkenny remain the benchmark
A strange contest at Nowlan Park yesterday left both sides half-satisfied and the watching public only partially fulfilled.
Kilkenny won at their leisure and yet almost coughed up a late window of opportunity for Dublin, 'keeper Richie Reid doing well to block a 70th minute goal chance for Eamonn Dillon when the margin stood at five points.
The visitors were a first half morass of suspect technique and sloppy turnovers - but at least they could leave Noreside happy in the knowledge that pride had been restored by virtue of winning the second half by two points.
If every game of competitive hurling adds to the learning curve, then Ger Cunningham can spy educational positives from watching his team see their three-game winning streak brought to a shuddering halt.
If some of those lessons can be absorbed on the weekend after next, it might even yield another Allianz Hurling League semi-final place - the Dubs will now tackle Limerick at the last-eight stage for the second year running, hoping to repeat last year's quarter-final cakewalk.
Meanwhile, for Kilkenny, a date with Offaly beckons - a scary prospect for the faltering Faithful if yesterday's shock home defeat to Kerry is anything to go by. In each case, the CCCC will confirm home venue (after a coin toss) tomorrow afternoon.
One of the most notable stats from yesterday's 'dead rubber' Division 1A contest was the official attendance - 8,871 represented a huge crowd for a game with nothing tangible at stake.
If they had come to see a classic, they were disappointed ... but while even visiting fans could marvel at the effortless brilliance of TJ Reid, they were also given a timely reminder of the gap that still exists between the best (aka Kilkenny) and their pretenders in Sky Blue.
Consider, for a second, some of the marquee stars who weren't available to Brian Cody here: Paul Murphy (a late cry-off), Conor Fogarty, Michael Fennelly and his brother Colin, and Eoin Larkin who is still on UN patrol in Syria.
Dublin are down several bodies too, but how they'd love to have such a decorated quintet to call on as we head into the business end of the league and then, more significantly, towards the championship.
Still, Cunningham was probably right to accentuate the positives of Dublin's second half performance. They stuck to their guns in the face of improbable odds (a half-time deficit of 0-14 to 1-3) and a realisation that several of those first half wounds were self-inflicted.
It has been clear, throughout this campaign, that the Sky Blue brains trust view possession as king and hence the propensity of short to medium-short puckouts. All very well when it works; but when your first touch is off and/or when Kilkenny forwards are voraciously on your case, it can lead to trouble.
The most noteworthy example came in the 24th minute when wandering wing-back Pádraig Walsh - one of Kilkenny's star operators - finished off a point that stemmed directly from a short Dublin puckout, with 'keeper Gary Maguire playing a couple of one-twos with his full-back line before the ball was eventually cleared, under pressure, and gobbled up by the Cats.
It wasn't the only such cheap turnover before the break: TJ Reid said 'thank you very much' to convert the gift of a blind, backward handpass from Niall McMorrow, while another Maguire puckout to his own 45m line went straight to Walter Walsh, and the resultant move ended in a John Power point.
Now, none of this should be misread as a flawless first half from the hosts.
They had ten wides on the board inside half-an-hour (Dublin, mind you, had 11 by half-time).
Moreover, Kilkenny's full-back line was unhinged a bit too easily in the 22nd minute, Eamonn Dillon's incisive approach work in the left corner creating the opportunity for Fionntán Mac Gib to finish the game's only goal, in clinical fashion.
The only trouble for Dublin is that they already trailed by six before that goal, whose morale-boosting value was quickly negated by a run of six unanswered Kilkenny points.
Dillon, with a sublime score from the touchline, and McMorrow stemmed the bleeding, but a monster free won and converted by Kieran Joyce left Kilkenny firmly in the ascendant, 0-14 to 1-3, at the break.
The second half was a considerable improvement from Dublin, although any assessment is tempered by one niggling doubt: were the opposition, by now, playing within themselves?
For example, Reid floated like a butterfly and stung like a wasp for three-quarters of the tie, but the last of his five points from play arrived in the 46th minute (six frees from his overall tally to 11).
This caveat aside, there were positives to be gleaned in defeat.
Afterwards, Cunningham suggested that young-guns Eoghan O'Donnell and Shane Barrett "came of age" but they did so as part of a defence that raised its collective game on the restart, Liam Rushe leading the fightback.
Up front, meanwhile, Dillon maintained his impressive spring form graph by shaking off All Star full-back Joey Holden for an eye-catching brace, bringing his personal tally to 0-3.
Mac Gib had his moments, too, and threatened to add a second goal to his 1-1 haul only for Holden to block his shot. Much later, Dublin's last lingering chance disappeared when Richie Reid denied Dillon from close range.
Allianz HL Div 1A: Kilkenny 0-23 Dublin 1-14
SCORERS - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-11 (6f), W Walsh, R Hogan 0-3 each, P Walsh, L Ryan 0-2 each, K Joyce (f), J Power 0-1 each.
Dublin: D Treacy 0-5 (4f), F Mac Gib 1-1, E Dillon 0-3, N McMorrow 0-2, L Rushe, M Schutte, J McCaffrey 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: R Reid; J Tyrrell, J Holden, B Kennedy; P Walsh, K Joyce, C Buckley; L Ryan, D Cody; W Walsh, TJ Reid, J Maher; J Power, JJ Farrell, R Hogan. Subs: M Malone for Maher (61), S Prendergast for Tyrrell (61), K Kelly for Malone (inj 72).
DUBLIN: G Maguire; E O'Donnell, C O'Callaghan, O Gough; C Crummey, L Rushe, S Barrett; D O'Connell, G Whelan; C Cronin, N McMorrow, D Treacy; E Dillon, F Mac Gib, M Schutte. Subs: J McCaffrey for Whelan (29), S McGrath for Cronin (46), S Treacy for O'Connell (61).
WIDES: Kilkenny 14 (10+4); Dublin 16 (11+5).
YELLOW: Kilkenny 0; Dublin 3 (C O'Callaghan 27, McCaffrey 54, Crummey 72).
REF: J Keenan (Wicklow).
MAN OF THE MATCH: TJ Reid (Kilkenny).
KILKENNY .................................. 0-23
DUBLIN ...................................... 1-14
ALLIANZ HURLING LEAGUE DIV 1A