Shane Stapleton was at Croke Park to see the Leinster SHC final clash of Kilkenny and Dublin — a game hit hard by Covid.
BY SHANE STAPLETON
TJ Reid blasted 1-10 past a Covid-weakened Dublin as Brian Cody claimed his 17th Leinster SHC title as manager of Kilkenny.
It delivered back-to-back provincial crowns for the men from the Marble County, who look in rude health heading into the All-Ireland series.
The Dubs were very much the victims of circumstance at Croke Park, and their challenge understandably faded out.
Mattie Kenny’s side were hit with a positive Covid in the lead-up to the game which meant starters Cian O’Callaghan and Ronan Hayes had to be replaced by Andrew Dunphy and Mark Schutte.
Their misery was compounded by the loss of Eoghan O’Donnell to a recurrence of his hamstring injury inside four minutes, with Sean Moran drafted in.
It all spelled disaster for the Dubs, and they got off to a turgid start as Kilkenny knocked over the first four scores through three Reid points (0-1f) and another from John Donnelly.
It might have been Dublin’s first final since 2014 but they didn’t roll over, even if the world seemed to be conspiring against them.
Donal Burke and the ravenous Danny Sutcliffe popped four scores between to put the capital back in the conversation, while Reid and captain Adrian Mullen kept the Cats ticking over.
Kenny urged his men to “reset now, lads” during the water break, but Kilkenny continued to be more economical in front of the posts and established a 0-9 to 0-5 lead.
Dublin hit four-in-a-row to level as Chris Crummey thundered into the game with a couple of points, but the Cats answered once more.
Eoin Cody scored one and assisted a couple of chances just before the interval, while Cian Boland couldn’t muster enough power in his goal attempt on 37 minutes to trouble Eoin Murphy.
Kilkenny began the second half with a three-point advantage — 0-12 to 0-9 — and came out to a Dublin team fired up, with a brief melee turning up the temperature.
The Cats didn’t mind though as they won the third quarter by 0-7 to 0-3, with the Blues turning over the ball at crucial times for key scores, while Martin Keoghan’s goal attempt was smothered by Alan Nolan on 49 minutes.
At 0-19 to 0-12 behind, the Dubs were in a deep hole, and manager Kenny had few options given the number of key players he was without.
Cody unleashed Michael Carey, Wally Walsh, Alan Murphy, James Bergin and Cillian Buckley, feeling his replacements could provide a similar impact to the Leinster semi-final when they added 1-8 — which they did with 0-6, and the winning of a penalty.
Wing-back James Maher began to get the better of his fantastic battle with Sutcliffe, while Dublin continued to stack up the wides.
A Reid penalty low to the right corner in the 62nd minute, which saw Jake Malone sin-binned for bringing down Alan Murphy, ended the game as a contest.
Donal Burke and substitute Davy Keogh knocked late scores for the Dubs but their lack of a goal threat meant a comeback was never on the cards.
Alan Nolan 0-1f
Rian McBride 0-1
Danny Sutcliffe 0-2
Donal Burke 0-10 (0-7f)
Chris Crummey 0-2
Cian Boland 0-1
Subs: Sean Moran for O’Donnell (3 mins); Jake Malone for Gray (temp 10-18); Paul Crummey for Schutte (ht); Malone 0-1 for Moran (51 mins); Davy Keogh 0-1 for O’Sullivan (53 mins); Sean Currie for Boland (temp 61-65 mins); David Treacy for Boland (70 mins)
James Maher 0-3
Adrian Mullen 0-2
John Donnelly 0-1
Martin Keoghan 0-2
Eoin Cody 0-1
TJ Reid 1-10 (0-8f, 0-1 65, 1-0 pen)
Subs: Michael Carey 0-1 for Browne (25 mins); Alan Murphy 0-2 for Leahy (ht); Cillian Buckley 0-1 for Richie Reid (46 mins); Wally Walsh for Ryan (48 mins); James Bergin 0-2 for Cody (64 mins)
Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick)
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