Kenny finally gets to banish summer blues
Dublin 1-22 Westmeath 0-17
Mattie Kenny is no fan of hurling in December, but at least yesterday's low-key start to 'next year' proved a pretty painless experience compared to the horrors of Portlaoise last July.
This time there was no ambush in the midlands; not even the hint of one. The only peril they faced was the potential for frostbite as Kenny's medley of established starters and Sky Blue wannabes eased to an eight-point victory at a sparsely attended TEG Cusack Park.
This was Dublin's opening foray in the Bord na Móna Walsh Cup, following the postponement of their rematch with championship nemesis Laois, and their manager was content to bring just 19 players on the team bus.
"It's not really a day to be sitting on the bench," he explained.
The starting 15 included just five players who had been there for the ill-fated throw-in against Laois in high summer - Paddy Smyth, James Madden, Tom Connolly, Oisín O'Rorke and late call-up Ronan Hayes - but the real intrigue surrounded the form of some other new and not-so-new faces.
Prior to yesterday's comeback, Mark Schutte's last competitive outing for the Dublin hurlers was a qualifier defeat in Cork back in July, 2016. He spent the next two years trying his luck with Jim Gavin's footballers, and all of his comeback campaign with the hurlers in a losing battle with injury.
Here, even if not quite the Schutte of old, his endeavour was obvious and he clipped two fine points from the wings.
The return of a fit and firing Schutte is one obvious positive for Kenny in year two. Here's another: Lorcan McMullan.
The Down native has left his calling card with Kilmacud in recent seasons but this was his baptism in blue and he marked it with a buzzing first half.
Westmeath had raced from the blocks into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead; from there to the break they were run ragged, with McMullan setting the tempo from midfield. He had a hand in the game's only goal on 14 minutes: after O'Rorke had battled doggedly to win a ruck, McMullan made a beeline for goal before feeding Hayes, who in turn offloaded to Aidan Mellett for a low, angled finish.
McMullan chipped in with 0-3 before the half-time bell, at which juncture Donal Burke had 0-5, four from play.
Burke opted off the panel to spend last summer in Boston, but his value has never been in doubt since he burst off the minor conveyor belt in 2017.
Few other Dubs come close to matching his effortless accuracy; here was another reminder and by close of business in Mullingar the Na Fianna man had top-scored with 0-8 (3f).
Burke was far less prominent after half-time, in common with his colleagues, and Dublin only mustered another 0-7 even though Westmeath were a man down from the 53rd minute after Joey Boyle walked for a second yellow.
Not that it mattered. The hosts' scattergun shooting, especially from frees, meant they could never get closer than seven. Eoin Price was a metronomic exception; the midfielder nailed all seven of his shots from play, but received only sporadic support from his teammates.
On this admittedly early evidence, Westmeath will face a daunting return to top-flight league hurling next month.
More will be expected of Dublin, especially with the aforementioned additions, while Kenny reported no retirements just yet. That includes Conal Keaney, 37 years young, who is currently focussed on Ballyboden's latest All-Ireland football quest.
"Conal is a very special guy," said Kenny. "Boden now have a very busy January coming up, currently that's Conal's only focus and we'll leave him away with that until they achieve that they're hopefully going to achieve."
SCORERS - Dublin: D Burke 0-8 (3f), O O'Rorke 0-5 (4f), A Mellett 1-1, L McMullan 0-3, D Keogh, M Schutte 0-2 each, A O'Neill 0-1. Westmeath: E Price 0-7, D McNicholas 0-4 (2f), D Clinton 0-3f, N Mitchell 0-2, L Varley 0-1.
DUBLIN: J Treacy; J Madden, P Smyth, T Connolly; P Crummey, D Gray, J Malone; D Keogh, L McMullan; F Whitely, M Schutte, D Burke; A Mellett, R Hayes, O O'Rorke. Subs: A O'Neill for O'Rorke (31), S Brennan for Treacy (ht), L Corcoran for Crummey (58), E O'Donnell for Keogh (60), Crummey for Mellett (63),
WESTMEATH: A McHugh; A Cox, T Doyle, A Ennis; S Clavin, A Craig, G Greville; L Varley, E Price; J Boyle, D O'Reilly, R Greville; N Mitchell, D Clinton, J Galvin. Subs: A Clarke for Clavin (25), D McNicholas for O'Reilly (ht), J Birmingham for Craig (ht), J Gilligan for Galvin (42), S McGovern for Clinton (52), C Doyle for R Greville (58), B Doyle for Varley (59).
WIDES: Dublin 9 (6+3); Westmeath 10 (3+7). YELLOW: Dublin 4 (Schutte 32, O'Neill 39, Smyth 48, Hayes 65); Westmeath 7 (Doyle 26, Galvin 27, Clinton 37, Boyle 44, 53, Ennis 57, McNicholas 66). RED: Westmeath 1 (Boyle 2nd yellow 53).
REF: G Quilty (Kilkenny).
ATT: 200 (est).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Eoin Price (Westmeath).