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Saturday 16 December 2017

Kilkenny can quell Dub rising

A fourth win would cement Dublin's improvement but progress can be seen throughout Cunningham's team

Dublin’s Daire Plunkett. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Daire Plunkett. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny’s Lester Ryan is tackled by Dublin’s Eamonn Dillon in last year’s NHL Division 1A encounter in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile

In no particular order, Dublin have achieved the following already this year: Division 1A safety, a league quarter-final spot, established a settled team, a big win in Croke Park and a modicum of straight line consistency.

Progress, that concept Dublin didn't entirely convince that they had attained in 2015, is almost everywhere you examine in the team now.

They've also scored goals and threatened to score many more, not a utility most closely associated with this team over the years.

In each of the last two years, Dublin have finished their five-game Division 1A campaign with five goals.

This year, they have five from four, yet look more tuned in to excavate chances and custom-built to put them away.

If they can take that with them into the championship, Dublin will be a very difficult team to beat, particularly with the defensive solidity which the team have exuded post Thurles and their opening night stinker against Tipperary.

"Certainly in the last couple of weeks, the lads are playing very well," said Daire Plunkett this week in praise of his attacking colleagues.

"Trollier (Eamonn Dillon) is flying, he's playing brilliantly.

"He's shown that in previous years and he's just either not been played consistently or was not playing consistently.

"But he's serious, he's absolutely flying. He has Mark (Schutte) there beside him and 'Dotsy' (David O'Callaghan) looks 10 years younger.

"He's out the pitch working and he's really enjoying it."

Dillon's display against Waterford was another sign of progress.

He lit up the Walsh Cup last year, faded as championship arrived and while he had his fitness problems, couldn't recapture that form all year.

This year, he produced more pyrotechnics in January, scoring five goals in another Walsh Cup campaign but Dillon has now a couple of outstanding league performances to show too.

Unique

Against Cork, he bagged two goals in an exhibition of what makes him unique in this Dublin team.

Repeating the trick against Waterford was always bound to be difficult so instead, Dillon produced a new trick and struck four beautiful points under pressure coming away from - rather than running directly at - goal.

"When those guys are working like that," the St Brigid's man pointed out, "the ball is sticking and we're getting the scores ... I thought 'Trollier' was phenomenal in the first-half especially against Waterford there on Sunday.

"The ball going in, sticking, and you can just see when he's playing with that confidence that he's absolutely brilliant."

It's one of the reasons Dublin are actually top of this Division going into its concluding regulation games tomorrow.

Six points from eight and positive scoring difference of plus-eight noses them in front of Waterford and Kilkenny and a win in Nowlan Park would confirm Dublin's rise since that opening day malfunction.

"Just getting back to the basics," is the most basic remedy Plunkett says the Dublin ingested in the time since.

Flat

"Against Tipp, we didn't work hard enough and we didn't use the ball well enough.

"The last three or four weeks, any of the reports from our games have talked about our work-rate and our use of the ball, and that's what we really needed to get back to.

"But when we don't have it and when we're not bringing it - and we didn't bring it against Tipperary, which was one of the most disappointing things, having had a very positive start to the year with the Walsh Cup, to the first league game to fall so flat.

"It was very disappointing that week and you would have doubts about why it didn't happen that week for us.

"But since then we've been able to get back to it and it kind of proves that point to ourselves as much as anything else, that when we have that work-rate and use the ball well, we're a very, very good team."

Good enough to beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park?

Well, it happened last year so there's no reason it shouldn't again tomorrow.

The circumstances are equally accommodating.

There is no pressure on Dublin to do anything here other than avoid a confidence-stripping hiding.

There is no great punishment for a loss or major prize for a win, other than what order the teams finish in this year's Division 1A table and which 1B opponent they meet in the league quarter-final.

Fallibility

It's the same situation Kilkenny find themselves in after their rip-roaring, last minute, Cork-heart-breaking win in Páirc Uí Rinn last week, the latest display of that team's propensity to win from any situation, regardless of how 72 or so minutes of a match have played out beforehand.

For returning All-Ireland champions, they're in a much better position this early in a season than they were this time last year and as such, any predictions of an even temporary fallibility are wholly unwise.

ODDS: Kilkenny 4/7, Draw 9/1, Dublin 13/8

VERDICT: Kilkenny

Allianz National Hurling League: Kilkenny v Dublin, Nowlan Park, 2.0

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