Hurling & Camogie

Strong Dublin side hampered by a Leinster world where it’s hard to see Kilkenny ever losing

On Saturday, five-in-a-row beckons for a side so successful, they’re almost immune to credit

Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley celebrates his goal at the end of the Leinster SHC Final win over Galway. Pic Philip Walsh
Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley celebrates his goal at the end of the Leinster SHC Final win over Galway. Pic Philip Walsh

Leinster SHC final

Kilkenny v Dublin (Saturday, Croke Park, 6pm, live on RTÉ2)

THEY’D argue this team isn’t a patch on the glory days, yet still The Cats are coming for a fifth Leinster title in a row. The tags of hunger and commitment forever hang over them to the point of disrespect, but it’s still true.

In the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final, Tipperary played some of the finest hurling they ever played. It felt as though they’d hurled the might of Kilkenny off the field. They went in at half-time a solitary point up.

You can’t beat Kilkenny, you have to bury them. Tigerishly oppressive, they’ve outlived their nine lives twenty times over.

Galway can attest to that. Whoever engraves the Bob O’Keeffe Cup must surely have been tempted to throw the -G in at the very least as injury time beckoned.

Derek Lyng’s men needed a goal. Padraic Mannion was unarmed at the vital moment, booting the sliotar away, but not far enough. Even if he put it over the Canal End, Cillian Buckley still would have found a way.

Cody or Lyng, Kilkenny always find a way. Even the great Tommy Walsh has been replaced almost eerily by a fresher-faced namesake, 15 years fresher.

The conveyor belt don’t stop and it only produces winners.

Which is why it becomes very difficult to make an argument for Dublin. They know they’re there or thereabouts. They know this isn’t the greatest Kilkenny side we’ve ever seen.

But if you had a gun to the head with the scores level and ten minutes to go, and you were asked to call the winner to spare your life, you wouldn’t even flinch. Not if you had nerves of steel nor nerves of jelly.

Dublin are more than capable of winning this affair, but therein lies the question: Do Dublin truly believe they will win? Do Dublin in their heart of hearts think they are the better side?

The answer to that will come coming down the stretch, if they get that far.

Their landmark win in Salthill began with a Sean Currie goal, but a dream start became a 0-9 1-1 deficit after just 14 minutes. David Burke’s red card was a huge turning point, debatable as it may well have been.

Black and amber naivety is a little harder to come by. Experience is what they all want but so few can have. A title for Kilkenny on Saturday would be a staggering 76th in the province.

That would propel them 52 clear of The Dubs, who sit in second place in a roll of honour that speaks volumes. History past and present weighs heavy on the mind.

Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng
Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng

Kilkenny weren’t even at their best in getting past Micheál Donoghue’s outfit in the round-robin phase, relying on a late Eoin Cody goal to claim the spoils.

These sides also met in the 2021 final, which finished 1-25 to 0-19, as Adrian Mullen grabbed the game’s only goal.

The glass-half full Dub would point to the standout win over Galway, away from home, that saw them register 2-27 with 14 different scorers.

But most of those scores came through the middle, courtesy of a powerful running game that no team loves to stifle more than The Cats. Centrefield could wind up insanely physical.

As much as it seems likely that Dublin will be in contention, scoring multiple goals and winning the final quarter look both necessity and impossibility.

In the Kilkenny dugout, Buckley will sit dreaming of another late show, in the company of fellow bench-warmers Walter Walsh, Billy Drennan and Conor Fogarty.

A formality would be an overstatement, but it would take a Lar Corbett-esque performance if Dublin are to stop this drive-for-five.


Joe McDonagh Cup final

(Saturday, Croke Park, 3.30pm, live on RTÉ2)

Feel-good factor, that’s the buzz term regarding Offaly hurling right now. 1998 was the year of their last All-Ireland title. They haven’t been in a final since.

Over 25,000 were in attendance for the U20 decider at UPMC Nowlan Park. The Faithful are one of only three counties to have won All-Ireland titles in both hurling and football across the board at minor, senior and U20/U21 level.

There’s a good reason they’ve partied hard.

Adam Screeney is the big name, a man possessed though barely a man. He’s been parachuted straight in to the senior side to face Laois.

And he’s not alone. Cathal King, Donal Shirley and Dan Bourke also started the U20 victory over Brendan Cummins’ Tipperary, and will take the field from the throw in along with Screeney on Saturday.

Though only striking once from play, Screeney grasped an impressive 0-12 haul in that final. The lesser heralded Bourke, well he helped himself to 1-3.

And among the subs this weekend will be Colin Spain, his solitary point a crucial one in seizing an historic victory.

That’s Offaly, all the rage and all the talk. So what of Laois?

They might well be glad of an under-the-radar build-up, certainly externally if not internally. An injury to Mark Dowling sees him miss out, as James Duggan fills the void in the full-forward line.

Recent returnee Stephen Maher has been left on the bench, and the O’Moore County may well turn to his immense experience in the closing stages.

Roscommon manager Johnny Kelly at the  Division 2B Allianz Hurling League clash against Down at Ballycran
Offaly manager Johnny Kelly formerly managed Roscommon, working his way onto Offaly'd backroom team originally, before getting the manager's gig.

Laois have already beaten Johnny Kelly’s charges in the group phase of the competition, with Kelly at a loss as to how his side failed to secure two points.

In the 52nd minute, Offaly led by 0-21 to 0-15, with a late collapse orchestrated by Laois’ marksman Paddy Purcell, who finished with 2-1.

Tight and high scoring was the consensus that day in Portlaoise, and in the open expanses of HQ, it seems likely we may be in store for another tasty affair, in an encounter that has the added spice of a derby.

Tipperary’s Cummins likened this affair to the Championship play-off final across the water. There really is no saving grace in defeat.

For the winner, it’s a trophy as well as promotion to the Leinster Championship. For the loser, it’s little other than agony and another year in the same competition that would likely bring a raft of retirements.

Finals can take on a life of their own, but true to form, Offaly should come through by five or six.