Dublin come face to face with the hurling might of Kilkenny this Sunday afternoon with the Leinster SHC championship on the line at Croke Park throw in 4.00pm. For Dublin it is their chance to show that their defeat of Kilkenny in the league was no fluke while the cats will want to show the hurling world that their is life and fight left in this Kilkenny team.
That defeat of Kilkenny in Croke Park earlier on in the campaign would have filled the Dublin hurlers and their supporters with the belief and confidence that they can finally challenge the likes of Kilkenny on a regular basis.
Anthony Daly has brought about huge change in Dublin hurling over the past number of years and a Leinster title, after the heartbreak of 2009, would be richly deserved for what he has given hurling in the capital.
The one worry for Daly coming into Sunday is that Dublin will be without several of their key players while Kilkenny welcome back Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Richie Power, Michael Fennelly and goalkeeper PJ Ryan who were all missing from that league defeat.
Yet Dublin will arguably have the greater momentum on Sunday. Wins over Offaly and Galway in the previous rounds giving them every chance of securing their first Leinster title since 1961. Daly knows however that league form and will count for little come 4.00pm on Sunday.
“We have parked the league,” Daly said. “Kilkenny seemed to use it to find a few lads, like we did last year, and take whatever comes from it but they finished top of the group! We played better on the day in the league final and we were really ready for it.
“We’ve gone from strength to strength and a belief has surged through the team all year.
“The way other lads have stepped up to the plate has been fantastic. The likes of Paul Ryan, Darragh Plunkett and Conor McCormack coming in off club hurling.
“But all that counts is what happens for that hour and a half after four o’clock on Sunday.”
For Kilkenny Sunday will be about making a statement and reestablishing themselves at the team to beat in the All Ireland Hurling Championship this season. Having lost out on their “drive for five” to Tippeary in the All Ireland final last September fans and pundits alike wondered aloud if the best days of this Kilkenny side were over.
Brian Cody’s men will be keen to silence any doubters on Sunday. Defeat doesn’t sit well with any Kilkenny side and the fear from a Dublin perspective is that Kilkenny will be so focused on beating Dublin that it could be too much for Anthony Daly’s men.
The return of Shefflin is a massive boost for Kilkenny. So much has already been said about the influence he has on the side and they are a weaker team without his presence. Having him in the side will lift the rest of the Kilkenny panel who will be eager to right what happened in the league.
An eleven point win against Wexford at the semi-final stage showed that Kilkenny haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. The real acid test will come this Sunday. How they respond will define this and the coming seasons.
In many ways Dublin have to win on Sunday. The have to win to have something tangible to show that they have made progression over the last few years. Beating Kilkenny in the league is fine but beating them in a final is another, greater challenge.
While Dublin have to win Kilkenny need to win. Everything that Kilkenny stands for is winning hurling championships. That defeat to Tipp last September will have cut deep and left scars. On Sunday Kilkenny can heal some of the scars left by that defeat by claiming their 68th Leinster title on the path to redemption later in the summer.