BY NIALL SHERRY – SPORTS EDITOR
18,000 Gaels permitted for Leinster showdown
Tomorrow will see Kilkenny attempt to secure a 17th O’Keefe Cup of Brian Cody’s reign when they take on Dublin at Croke Park (Throw–in 7.30pm).
Whether or not the final can live up to the semi-final feast that the Cats and Wexford served up, remains to be seen, but one thing is guaranteed – Kilkenny will not take the metropolitans for granted.
Truth be told, most pundits and fans expected the final to be a winner takes all battle between Galway and Kilkenny, with the outright league title crown accompanying the Leinster title.
Dublin boss Mattie Kenny clearly didn’t get that memo, as his side claimed an unexpected win over the fancied westerner’s. Galway were simply not only out-thought, but out-fought by the capital side.
Of course, a case can be made for the home side. Their semi-final win saw great displays from many players, but the standout performances were the Burke’s – Conor and Donal, Danny Sutcliffe and Ronan Hayes.
Conor Burke covered as lot of ground in the defensive third from his midfield berth, while Donal’s accuracy from placed balls was key. In Sutcliffe they have an undoubted talent. He provides much drive from the half forward line, and finished the game with three points the last day. At full forward, Ronan Hayes provides a focal point for attacks, and brings the on-running players nicely into the game. Worth mentioning also that Daire Gray notched two points from wing-back.
On the evidence of the dubs last outing, Galway native Kenny will not be found wanting in the tactical battle with his opposite number Brian Cody. However, if this, their first Leinster Final appearance since 2014 is to end in victory, it will take a shock of epic proportion.
The Dub’s can’t afford this game to turn into a shoot-out – Kilkenny have too much quality in whatever starting XV take to the turf along with an extremely strong bench. In defeating Wexford, seven subs registered scores – and this undoubtably helped Cody’s mean reach tomorrow’s final.
Kenny’s men will know that any free’s conceded will be punished by TJ. The Ballyhale man finished the Wexford game with a 16-point haul. That’s just two points less than the Dublin total against Galway. How the sky blue’s defence cope with the Shamrocks trio of TJ, Eoin Cody and captain Adrian Mullen will have a huge bearing on proceedings at headquarters.
When Kilkenny supremo Cody sits down to pick his side, he will be faced with some tough decisions.
Walter Walsh, fresh from his lovely solo effort in the semi-final and the impressive James Bergin will have given the boss plenty to ponder. Either way, the talent is there.
Eoin Murphy will hope for a more relaxed day at the office with no trips to the sin-bin!
In front of the Glenmore man, O’Loughlin Gaels duo of Deegan and Lawlor ably supported by Tullaroan’s two Walsh’s will hope to be less troubled by the Dub’s attack than the Lee Chin lead Wexford threat.
Croke Park awaits for the finalists, hopefully not long before Bob comes home.
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
Forget about three lions, it’s all about the real Cats. Having re-watched the semi-final win over Wexford, there’s definitely only one game in town. What a game. At this stage all the cliches and superlatives have been used. Whether or not they will ever do justice to what was one of the great hurling games ever remain to be seen.
Great game as it was, it will only live long in the memory if the job is completed at headquarters tomorrow. Yes, it’s a banana skin, the Dub’s have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I expect Mattie Kenny’s charges to bring the fight and give it a good lash.
Leinster titles shouldn’t be easy pickings. Brian Cody’s men will have to earn the right to lift the cup and collect the medals.
This squad have been questioned over the past few years, the manager too. Now is the time to show that Kilkenny are still dining at Hurling’s top table. A 17th O’Keefe Cup of Cody’s tenure is the perfect stepping stone to what we hope will be more days out in the capital.
VERDICT – It’s coming home.