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Analysis: Rushe's attacking brilliance, the Kilkenny fightback and how Dublin lost the game

2001 All-Ireland winning captain Tommy Dunne takes a closer look at Kilkenny’s two-point Leinster SHC win over Dublin yesterday.


Kilkenny’s come-from-behind win over Dublin in the Leinster SHC yesterday was a terrific championship game played in perfect conditions in front of a packed Parnell Park.

A general view of the game Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Dublin are usually hard to beat at the Donnycarney venue and so it transpired yesterday. Pat Gilroy’s side should have won the game, and up until the last 10 minutes were playing the better hurling.

The Dubs were good value for their five-point lead after 61 minutes, but Kilkenny being Kilkenny, they dug out a really important victory at the death.

After their brilliant league final win over Tipperary, it’s easy to overlook just how inexperienced a team Brian Cody fielded yesterday.

The Cats had seven championship debutants in the starting 15 and while they didn’t come close to the form they showed against Tipp last month, they did display tremendous fight to come back and win this game.

Both teams will take an awful lot out of yesterday’s clash. Dublin came with a very specific game-plan and to a large extent, it worked.

They relied mainly on the big physical players up front to gain a foothold and trouble Kilkenny. That was largely successful and they were able to keep the visitors very much under wraps by playing an extra man back which denied them space.

The reality is: had Dublin taken their chances and been better disciplined, they could have prevailed with three or four points to spare.

Chris Crummy dejected at the end of the game Dublin captain Chris Crummey after the game Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

1. Dublin’s plan to handle Kilkenny

Gilroy identified Kilkenny’s key players beforehand. Obviously, TJ Reid and Walter Walsh are hugely influential figures in the Cats attack, Ger Aylward is another one and the rest have growing reputations after the job they did on Tipperary recently.

Dublin didn’t want to allow the Kilkenny front six any space to operate in and they lined out with a very strong half-back line of Shane Barrett, Eoghan O’Donnell and Chris Crummey, with Sean Moran behind them as the sweeper.

All four are all extremely comfortable in the air and up until the last 10 minutes they denied Kilkenny any real space to run into.

The league champions created very little, particularly early on. With 25 minutes gone, the Cats were 1-4 to 0-4 behind and had yet to register a score from play.

That statistic proves that Gilroy’s strategy was well executed by his players. Here are some examples of his system in action:

14 minutes, 15 seconds — Cillian Buckley is normally one of Kilkenny’s best distributors, but he makes a clearance in the opening quarter that sums up the lack of rhythm in their play.

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Dublin are in charge at this stage and when Buckley receives a pass from Paddy Deegan, he’s immediately put under pressure from Dublin centre-forward Conal Keaney.

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Buckley’s clearance has no real direction and Crummey is able to mop it up in midfield with a spare Dublin man nearby if required.

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21:08 — In this play, Eoin Murphy goes delivers his puck-out well into the opposition half, but Dublin are ready for it. The Sky Blues have 11 players, including the goalkeeper, inside their own 45 and easily come away with possession.

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That didn’t happen by accident. Dublin expected Kilkenny to employ a fairly direct style and didn’t allow space develop by flooding the area with bodies.

You can see Danny Sutcliffe on the bottom right of the picture. Dublin’s half-forwards dropped back on Murphy’s puck-outs to close up space and allow the half-back line to drop off deeper if necessary.

25:42 — Dublin sat back quite deep in general play and it had its downsides too. Paul Ryan gets on the ball at midfield and doesn’t have a whole lot of options other than to shoot as he has no team-mate within 35 yards of the Kilkenny goal-line.

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His effort drops short and it leads directly to a score from James Maher. Kilkenny are able to work the ball out and Joey Holden nails a crisp pass over to an unmarked Maher, who pops it over the bar.

That last play wasn’t typical of Dublin and their defensive game largely worked for them.

The reason any team plays this style is to deny the opposition easy scoring opportunities. Dublin were willing to play the percentages game in terms of picking off their own scores and winning scoreable frees.

It’s hard to argue against Gilroy’s plan, especially given Kilkenny’s failure to score from play for most of the opening half.

Pat Gilroy Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

2. Influence of strong men

When the game develops into an untidy, messy contest that’s full of rucks on the ground, you can see the influence of big strong men around the field.

Dublin had two forwards who used their size brilliantly in Liam Rushe and Conal Keaney, while Walter Walsh was very effective for Kilkenny particularly early on in the game when they weren’t threatening a whole lot.

Dublin’s attacking gameplan focused on direct ball into Rushe. Gilroy clearly felt he’d have a physical and height advantage over Padraig Walsh and was confident that if Rushe didn’t win possession himself, at the very least there were going to be spillages and breaking ball around him.

It was down to Rushe’s teammates to get onto those breaks, or at least prevent Kilkenny from coming out with clean possession and driving it 80 yards down the field. That worked really well for them.

02:56 — Dublin’s first goal is a good example of that. Sean Moran stands over a free deep inside his own half and Dublin leave the space in the left corner for full-forward Rushe to take the ball out in front of Walsh.

Rushe has a very direct style so when he gets the ball, he usually turns and heads straight at the goal. When you have his power, pace and skill, it’s exactly the right thing to be doing.

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Rushe takes on Walsh nearly ever time and when you do that it’s very easy to bring support players with you. Conal Keaney and Paul Ryan were able to feed off Rushe and in this instance, it results in a superb finish to the net by Ryan.

13:57 — Walsh sets up a chance for Maher. It ends up as a wide for the Cats but demonstrates his ability to win possession and lay it off.

14:53 — Walsh wins a tussle and spins away from O’Donnell and Cian O’Callaghan, when Bill O’Carroll comes flying in with a shoulder. He might as well have run into concrete wall and Walsh pings a lovely pass across to Aylward but Alan Nolan pulls off a stunning save.

33:10 — A short Dublin puck-out spills to TJ Reid and the Ballyhale ace feeds it back to Walsh in the middle third. Walsh takes off and breaks several tackles before he clips over the point off his right-hand side.

34:44 — Rushe is heavily involved in Dublin’s second goal which arrives right before half-time. He contests Alan Nolan’s puck-out but the break is picked up by Enda Morrissey, who is immediately dispossessed by Rushe.

The beauty of having him there is the ball going in doesn’t have to be perfect.

Once again the St Patrick’s man barrels through and lays it off to Ryan, whose shot is saved by Murphy. Fergal Whitely arrives on the scene and whips home the rebound.

38:11 — A long Kilkenny puck-out is fielded by Eoghan O’Donnell, who hits a direct ball to Liam Rushe.

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Rushe takes the ball and runs straight at Walsh. When support arrives in the form of another Kilkenny defender, Rushe pops it out to Keaney who splits the posts.

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This is a terrific Dublin move and Rushe’s fingerprints are all over it again.

42:45 — Keaney gets himself over the ball and ends up winning a free. Kilkenny can’t shift him so they jump onto his back and he goes over.

It’s a free out of nothing and comes in a passage of play where Dublin are struggling to get a look at the posts. He’s fouled because he’s just so strong and can’t be dispossessed legally.

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44:03 — The third Dublin goal arrives when a line-ball is delivered straight into Rushe on the Kilkenny 45m line.

Rushe is involved twice in this move, which results in Jake Malone finding the net after Murphy saves his initial shot. It’s a brilliant example of how effective Rushe is in that position when he gets direct ball.

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When he wins it clean and he’s allowed to turn, it’s nearly impossible to stop him and dispossess him. It’s no coincidence that Dublin harvested three goals from the three occasions Rushe ran at the Kilkenny rearguard.

I’d be asking the question from a Kilkenny perspective why that line-ball was allowed to go down the middle channel without anyone sweeping it up. There really should have been someone sitting in that pocket to prevent the ball going all the way in.

I don’t know where the free man was in that situation. You’d imagine he would be sitting in front of that full-forward position, given Rushe was so dangerous.

Liam Rushe with Joey Holden and Padraig Walsh Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Rushe, Keaney and Walsh where three big, physical men who stood out in their respective forward lines on a day when it was hard to play well because it was so crowded.

3. Kilkenny pip Dublin down the home straight

The period after 61 minutes was Dublin’s weakest spell in the game and that’s where Kilkenny just got their nose over the finishing line. It’s a very interesting stage of the game to look back on.

For the hosts, it could have been a discipline issue, a lack of concentration, or fatigue setting in, but the statistics don’t lie. TJ Reid scored 0-9 from frees for the Cats and Eoin Murphy contributed 0-4 from placed balls.

So Dublin had 13 frees scored against them and over half of Kilkenny’s 25 scores came from placed balls.

That’s one of the big takeaways I’d say Pat Gilroy and Anthony Cunningham will have from yesterday. That’s something they can’t repeat or they’re going to end up on the right side of tight scorelines.

61:14 — Rushe plays a lovely diagonal ball into Paul Winters and the Dubs recycle it to make the chance for Crummey. The wing-back drills it over the bar. Dublin 3-15 Kilkenny 0-19.

There’s no question Dublin are in a winning position here. They’re the better team, they’re five up with less than 10 minutes to go.

Dublin won’t score again until 72:03, but watch what happens in the meantime:

62:26 — They concede free for a chop down on Reid by Moran. Reid converts. Dublin 3-15 Kilkenny 0-20.

64:49 — Another free conceded by Dublin. This one is for a push on Paul Murphy by Rushe. Again Reid splits the posts. There’s no need for either of those frees to be given away but Kilkenny have two points back. Dublin 3-15 Kilkenny 0-21.

Players from both sides compete Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

68:03 — Tomas Connolly hits a wide after a good chance. He’ll be dissapointed he didn’t conert this chance after scoring a good point earlier in the half. From the puck-out, Colin Fennelly ends up scoring his third point from play. That’s a two-point swing – from a Dublin wide to a Kilkenny point. Dublin 3-15 Kilkenny 0-22.

69:50 — Dublin concede another free with Rushe the guilty party. Murphy points it from distance. Dublin 3-15 Kilkenny 0-23.

Now Kilkenny are on the front foot in a big way. The last thing you want in the final five minutes of a game is to give the Cats a whiff of blood. It’s very, very hard to hang on against them.

70:50 — Dublin have possession after Paddy Smyth catches a great ball in front of Kilkenny sub Liam Blanchfield. Whether it should be a free out or not, the reality is the free isn’t awarded. Not only does Blanchfield help turn the ball over, but he takes off towards goal and receives a pass from Luke Scanlon over the top of the Dublin defence.

There’s no cover in behind and in fairness to Blanchfield it’s a terrific passage of play for the winning goal. From the turnover and the support run to the way he puts it away.

It’s not an easy finish as he’s going straight at the goals with the keeper coming out, and there’s a danger of being hooked from behind. Technically, it’s a superb finish. Dublin 3-15 Kilkenny 1-23.

The teams trade points in the final minutes and Kilkenny run out 1-24 to 3-16 winners.


Despite the victory, Kilkenny have plenty of concerns and Cody will be far from happy with the performance. From their starting six forwards, they only had a return of four points from play. That’s a serious issue for them, but on the bright side the game-time they got into Colin Fennelly and Paul Murphy will benefit them hugely for the weeks ahead.

They had difficulty dealing with the way Dublin set-up and the physicality of Rushe and Keaney, but Kilkenny will get better. They probably have more scope for improvement than Dublin, who probably played nearer to their best.

Both teams will take a lot out of that game. Kilkenny have Offaly next weekend, who aren’t an easy proposition and won’t lie down, but on paper at least Dublin have the harder task next weekend away to Wexford.

The issue for both teams is the next games are coming around the corner very quickly for them. Roll on next weekend.

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