Reliable rearguard helps minors give Cats licking
DUBLIN produced a courageous second-half performance to deservedly account for Kilkenny by five points in their Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Hurling Championship semi-final at a rain-swept O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, last Saturday afternoon.
Despite enjoying a precarious four-point lead at the interval, the reigning holders raised their intensity and consequently improved sufficiently to book a final berth against Wexford next Sunday week.
Central to their victory was a disciplined defensive showing in which wing-backs Eoghan O'Donnell and Sean McClelland impressed throughout, while captain Cian O'Callaghan ensured the lifeline of a goal to Kilkenny never materialised with a solid outing from full-back.
That Dublin should prevail in relative comfort looked unlikely after a nervy opening in which the usually reliable Paul Winters betrayed his side's nerves with two successive wides from placed balls.
Kilkenny were equally culpable in that regard with the opening score of the game finally arriving in the 10th minute through a Conor Martin free. An excellent point from play soon after by the lively Martin doubled Kilkenny's lead.
In the 12th minute, Martin had a glorious opportunity to strike a crucial blow to Dublin's chances after Shane Barrett had conceded a penalty for a foul on Shane Donnelly, but the ensuing strike was placed too close to Cian Mac Gabhann who deflected the ball to safety.
Despite landing the resultant '65', Martin and Kilkenny in general looked deflated by that missed opportunity with Dublin finally recording their first score through an excellent point on the run by the influential Cormac Costello at the end of the first quarter.
A glorious Sean McClelland score followed soon after, before Dublin seized the initiative when a lengthy delivery by Colm Cronin was adroitly flicked to the net by the on-rushing Winters from close range in the 22nd minute.
The St Brigid's player then added three points, two from placed balls, before Martin ended a 17-minute barren run for Kilkenny with a 30th-minute free to leave his side trailing by 1-5 to 0-4 at the turnaround.
Another classy Costello point within 20 seconds of the restart stretched Dublin's advantage but Chris Bolger and Ciaran Doyle figured prominently as that gap was whittled down to just two points by the 41st minute.
However, Kilkenny's over-reliance on Martin for scores was beginning to prove critical as Dublin hunted ferociously in packs, allowing Costello and Winters to translate that superiority on the scoreboard.
When Cronin, making his first competitive championship start of the year, gained tangible reward for a tireless display with a 53rd-minute point, Dublin had effectively confirmed their advancement with Caolan Conway's second booking in injury time a disappointing conclusion to events on an otherwise positive afternoon.