Kilkenny's Noel Hickey pursues Dublin's Daire Plunkett during the NHL final.

THE Dublin hurlers made the big breakthrough in emphatic style with a Croke Park win over the mighty Kilkenny in Sunday’s NHL final.

Anthony Daly’s team was full value for their 0-22 to 1-7 win over the Cats, who had Eoin Larkin sent off for a straight red card offense in the first half.

Daly, an All-Ireland medal winner with Clare in his playing days, could hardly contain his delight as the final whistle sounded and Dublin collected their first National League hurling title in 72 years.

“We can play at the top level. We can play against Offaly and Kilkenny and Wexford, all the teams. We can play against them. Days like today help to show us that,” said Daly.

“We would try and think that today would be a confidence day. Big days like today bring confidence and that’s what it’s about.”

Dublin’s turnaround in less than a year is quite something. Just last summer they were beaten by Antrim by a point in the All-Ireland qualifiers on the same Croke Park pitch.

“It isn’t too long since we were over in the Cusack Stand dressing rooms totally despondent, saying,

‘Where are we going?’ after training hard for two years. It looked like we weren’t going too far,” added Daly.

“In that sense it is satisfying but it is only the first of May. There is a lot to go.”

The calming influence of the manager clearly had a big affect on the Dublin players, who started nervously but soon settled into a match winning rhythm.

“The big thing in the dressing room before hand was to come and play with a bit of freedom and don’t be getting caught up in occasions,” said Daly.

“Nobody knows better than me, going into big days with Clare. You are worried about tickets and parades and where will I bring the cup and all that.

“It is all about the 70 minutes and we finally realized that. We did play a bit nervously early on but it’s all about what happens when the ball is thrown in. Everything else is totally irrelevant.”

Former Tipperary player Ryan O’Dwyer was one of the stars on the day for the Dubs, and admitted that team spirit and the home support were crucial factors in his side’s victory. “It’s an amazing feeling. We are just totally chuffed,” said O’Dwyer to reporters afterwards.

“You saw the excitement out there. The crowd really got behind us. They are the best crowd in the world, I’ll admit that. They are absolutely outstanding.

“If you could get them coming to every game, to get something going in the capital -- it is badly needed for hurling to get that support behind us.

“I won one league title with Tipp and I felt part of that but this is just so much more. That might make me a few enemies down in Tipp but the feeling here and the buzz I’m getting with the boys -- we are just a united team.

“As I said, I’ve been on a lot of teams and nothing compares to this. Everyone works for each other. It is amazing.”

This win, O’Dwyer believes, is only the start of things to come, but he did warn that Offaly will be only too happy to bring them back down to earth in the championship on the last Sunday in May.

The Dublin county board wants that game played in Croke Park and not Parnell Park, and O’Dwyer knows how big a fixture it is now.

“We want to go further and achieve more. I have no doubt that there is still more in us but we have to be very wary. We have Offaly in four weeks’ time in Parnell,” O’Dwyer said.

“If we could get it in here in Croke Park it would be great. But we have them in Parnell and they are going to be looking to knock us off our pedestal. I have no doubt about that.”

No Excuses
BEATEN Kilkenny boss Brian Cody made no excuses nor did he look for any as he reflected on Dublin’s NHL final win.

The straight red card handed out to Eoin Larkin in the first half of Sunday’s Division One didn’t help the Cats cause, but Cody wasn’t looking for sympathy afterwards.

“What happened out there happened so there is no point in pretending it is a one-off thing. It something that we have to go away and sort out and get ready for the Championship,” said Cody.

“I’ve never pretended that we wouldn’t be interested in winning the league. I’ve always said that of course we would love to win the league.

“We are not going to shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Look it, we have our two eyes on the championship.’ We had our two eyes on today’s match and that is it. We came up very, very short.

“The better team was Dublin for sure. If I said losing a player early in the game - you could say I was making excuses. I am not making excuses. The player we lost was in the game, he was on the ball.”

Cody was critical of the red card dished out to Larkin.  “I didn’t think it was a sending off, absolutely not,” he said.

“He turned, he reacted. There was no strike involved with that. That’s a pushing motion. Certainly, I would have a problem with that. It’s frustrating because he’s one of the cleanest players I’ve ever, ever been associated with.

“I don’t have a problem with the referee’s performance. I think the referee went on the word of a linesman.”

Cody has yet to examine the full implications of the defeat, with some supporters worried it will have a knock-on effect come the Leinster Championship.

“That remains to be seen,” claimed the Kilkenny boss. “The championship is obviously the challenge, the League is over. Some people think we did very well to get to the league final.

“We got to the final and we got beaten badly in it by a very, very good team and I suppose the form team there for a year.

“Whether it is a setback or not, I don’t know. We will have to wait and see.”

Cody also paid tribute to Dublin.  “They have all the ingredients that are needed for a very good team. They have proved that right throughout the year,” he said.


Limerick Wins
LIMERICK are back in the top flight of the National League after Saturday night’s 4-12 to 2-13 victory over Clare in the NHL Division Two final in Ennis.

Limerick defender Seamus Hickey was a relieved man after the win when his team finally overcame the home challenge in a frantic finale.

“It was one of these games, the conditions were ideal and the pace was well up there,” said Hickey.

“People were dying to get on the ball. A lot of the game, if you weren’t fully tuned in, it passed you by.  I got a bang in the head in the second half and for about 15 minutes I didn’t know where the ball was coming from.

“We were four points down in a league final against Clare in Cusack Park with only minutes to go; we were really up against it and it took massive character to come back from that.”

Clare boss Ger O’Loughlin admitted that the four goals his team conceded made all the difference on the night.

“You’re not going to win too many matches when you concede four goals, and that was the most disappointing part,” said O’Loughlin.

“I’m very proud of the lads, though. I thought they tried awful hard and for a long time we took the game to Limerick and looked the better team.

“There was a period in the second half when we could have pushed on and won but, fair dues to Limerick, they took their goals well, Unfortunately, it’s another year in Division Two, which we could have done without.”

Jordan for Tyrone
PHILIP Jordan has committed his services to the Tyrone football team for the championship campaign after returning to training with Mickey Harte’s side.

Jordan missed the National Football League campaign as he contemplated his future but is now back on board.

“I told Mickey that I would be taking a bit of time in January and February in bid to clear up some groin and hip problems and that’s what I did. I have to say I enjoyed the break,” said Jordan.

“I know that there are all sorts of stories going around. I hate to disappoint them people but there’s been no row. It just came down to establishing whether or not I had the hunger for another championship run.

“There’s a serious amount of commitment needed to prepare for an Ulster Championship and an All-Ireland run if you’re lucky enough to get that far. It’s not just about turning up to games and togging out. You need to be mentally prepared.

“I’ve been in contact with a few of the boys over the last couple of weeks but I can assure people that the final decision is my own. I’ll be at training on Thursday night and I’ll be ready to work hard with the rest of the lads to win a place on the team for the Monaghan game.”