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Moody Blues simply have to beat Laois

Fennelly shocked that Dublin were so easily humbled by scratch Cats side

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Nowlan nightmare: Dublin's Danny Sutcliffe comes under pressure from Ciarán Wallace of Kilkenny during the Allianz Hurling League match on Sunday

Nowlan nightmare: Dublin's Danny Sutcliffe comes under pressure from Ciarán Wallace of Kilkenny during the Allianz Hurling League match on Sunday

SPORTSFILE

Nowlan nightmare: Dublin's Danny Sutcliffe comes under pressure from Ciarán Wallace of Kilkenny during the Allianz Hurling League match on Sunday

Kevin Fennelly ventured along to Nowlan Park on Sunday and was bemused by what he saw. Not from his native Kilkenny, but from Dublin.

"They just didn't seem to have any direction," he said. "And I didn't see anything positive with them, which I was a little bit surprised at because, generally speaking, they get out of the blocks early enough every year."

Only one Kilkenny man has ever managed the Dublin hurlers - Fennelly. That happened in the early noughties, not long after Fennelly called time on his brief tenure with Kilkenny, having led them to the 1998 All-Ireland final.

His successor? Brian Cody.

The result between the two counties he once managed was a surprise, not, per se, because Kilkenny vanquished Dublin on home turf in a late January Allianz League game.

Shock

The shock was that they did it so emphatically, by 3-21 to 0-18, having started just six of their All-Ireland final team from last August, and having hurled from the 26th minute with 14 men.

That has to be a concern for Mattie Kenny, even if one of his post-match comments pointed towards a different league approach in this, his second year as Dublin manager - one with the potential to produce short-term pain like Sunday.

As Kenny explained: "We introduced a few new players today and I suppose last year we worked hard early on in the league and, as the championship went on, we seemed to lose our form a little bit."

Still, a 12-point rout is sure to ramp up the pressure ahead of their next NHL outing in Parnell Park this Sunday - against Laois, of all teams, who inflicted upon Dublin one of the biggest shocks in decades last July.

While there was an element of pinball fortune attached to Ger Aylward's opening goal on Sunday, the second and third Kilkenny goals were coughed up too easily. Throw in Dublin's short puckout travails and obliteration on the breaking ball, and you've a recipe for double-digit trouble.

"There was no stage in the game where I thought they were going to beat Kilkenny," says Fennelly. "To me, if they were going to put down a marker, they should have put down a marker (on Sunday).

"I can see how Laois beat them last year. When it came to the crunch, I can see now why Laois beat them last year."

Hence the added importance of this Sunday in Donnycarney. "One hundred per cent," Fennelly agrees. "At the end of the day, they came down and got 'bet' by 12 points against an experimental Kilkenny team.

"If I was Mattie Kenny, I'd be a bit disappointed with that. They have a big game next weekend, because they need to beat Laois and that's the bottom line. And that's only a starting point."

Negative

So far, so negative. As for Kilkenny, after last year's against-the-odds run to the All-Ireland SHC final and this month's trilogy of All-Ireland club titles, Fennelly reckons his own county folk need to be less negative about their 2020 prospects under the eternal commander, Cody.

"It's never easy to beat a Kilkenny team - despite what we think in Kilkenny, we're probably our biggest critics - because anyone who puts on a black and amber jersey is able to hurl," he points out.

"Generally speaking they surprise you when you don't expect them to. And that happened (on Sunday).

"We'd be looking at faults in the team but when you go outside and look at other teams, you'd wonder, like, what are you talking about? We're still very competitive.

"I've no doubt we're not far away, and we're in the top four at all stages. We're probably our own biggest critics, but we haven't won an All-Ireland since 2015. It's hard to believe it's that long, when you look at the record we had for the 15 years previous to that.

"But we just demand too much from players. We're very critical. I have no doubt we're in the top four; we are definitely in the top four this year and we are capable of winning the All-Ireland.

"But we are probably the only county that doesn't actually believe that, because we think we're not as good as we were. But we couldn't be as good as we were 10-15 years ago, because those lads were so good.

Good enough

"I met so many people (on Sunday) and they said, 'Ah sure, we're grand, like, but we're just not good enough.' But I actually think we are good enough.

"I have no doubt we're as good as the best team in the country. In my opinion, we beat the best team in the country last year, in the semi-final … and let Limerick cry or whatever they want about it, but in an All-Ireland semi-final Kilkenny just beat them. And I reckon that Limerick are the best team.

"And that's no disrespect to Tipperary in any shape or form, because only for Tipp over the last 20 years and Kilkenny, the hurling championship would be a very poor championship. Tipp kept it going when Kilkenny were at their very best … but I just think this Tipp team are not as good as some of the Tipp teams in the past.

"But they got their All-Ireland and, do you know what, the best of luck to them."

In summary, while it's only one league game, Sunday was a reminder that Dublin have a mountain to climb while Kilkenny are most assuredly not stuck at base camp.

"Dublin four or five years ago were a handful for any team in the country, were beaten in an All-Ireland semi-final, and unlucky that they were beaten," Fennelly recalls.

"And now where the standard in my opinion has dipped, they have dipped a lot more.

"Kilkenny," he concludes, "are going to be there or thereabouts again. And while they mightn't win the All-Ireland, there's no one will take them for granted ... they are one of the top teams in it, despite what we think!"