Kilkenny survived a second half fight back from Dublin to claim their fourth straight Erin Leinster Under-21 title, winning by 2-18 to 2-10 at Nowlan Park tonight.

Having trailed by nine points at the interval and lost midfielder Willie Lowry to a harsh red card, the gutsy Dubs battled back with second half goals from Alan McCrabbe and substitute Dermot Connolly.

They whittled the lead down to three points but a 55th-minute major from Dave McCormack, who scored 1-05, sealed the Cats' victory and set up a re-match against Galway, who edged the Noresiders in last year's All-Ireland decider.

Maurice Nolan's 26th-minute goal, set up by quick hand passes from Eddie O'Donoghue and McCormack, helped the champions go in at half-time with a 1-10 to 0-04 lead.

Adrian Finan's side were five points to the good before Kevin O'Reilly popped over Dublin's first point from a 14th-minute free. Nolan (0-02), 'Cha' Fitzpatrick (free) and McCormack (0-02 (1f)) all rapped over early scores as the Dubs came up against a brick wall consisting of John Tennyson and John Dalton at the other end.

The class of Kilkenny's senior players was shining through in all sectors, but Nolan and McCormack more than held their own – hitting 1-06 (3f) between them in the opening half.

In between late points from McCormack and Austin Murphy, Dublin had Lowry dismissed by referee Fergus Smith.

With the ball under Murphy's body, Lowry had gone in hard on the Kilkenny centre forward. At worst the challenge merited a yellow card, and that is what Lowry got.

But Meath official Smith had a case of mistaken identity as he flashed a yellow and then red at Lowry who had not been previously booked. The Dubs were enraged, but there was little they could do.

Things got progressively worse for Sean Lane's underdogs as Kilkenny opened the second half with quick points from Murphy and O'Donoghue – shifting their lead to 11 points.

A brace of frees from Kevin O'Reilly, taking his tally to 0-04 (4f), got the Dubs back on track and their first goal quickly followed on 38 minutes. Thomas Brady sent a long ball into the square, Kilkenny 'keeper Liam Tierney failed to collect and the lurking McCrabbe swatted it home.

That got the gap down to six – points from McCormack and Fitzpatrick were then cancelled out by two O'Reilly drives as a fired up Dublin kept in touch.

Kilkenny then pushed 1-16 to 1-09 clear before Connolly's effort, which saw him hold off the challenge of Dalton and swing a ferocious shot past Tierney, put only four points between the sides with 10 minutes remaining.

Another O'Reilly free incredibly made it a three-point game – 1-16 to 2-10 – and a shock was on the cards. But cruelly, the extra man told in the closing stages as despite Fitzpatrick missing two frees and McCormack striking wide, the latter made up for it by netting the clinching goal.

Fitzpatrick delivered a long range free into the square and McCormack rose above Ger O'Meara to slash the ball past a stranded Alan Nolan. McCormack teed up Maurice Nolan for a high quality point soon after and substitute Paddy Hogan followed suit in injury-time.

The victory marked Kilkenny's third U-21 final win over the Metropolitans in four seasons – they also came out on top in 2003 and 2005.

Kilkenny: L Tierney; K Joyce, D Cody, S Cummins; J Dalton, J Tennyson, P Hartley; M Fennelly, J Fitzpatrick (0-02 (1f)); TJ Reid (0-01), A Murphy (0-03), D Fogarty (0-02); E O'Donoghue (0-01), M Nolan (1-03), D McCormack (1-05 (4f)).

Subs used: P Hogan (0-01) for Cummins (49 mins), A Healy for O'Donoghue (50), G Nolan for Reid (60+2)

Dublin: A Nolan; G O'Meara, P Bergin, D O'Reilly; K Nolan, T Brady, C Billings; J McCaffrey, W Lowry; E Moran (0-01), G Morris (0-01), K O'Reilly (0-07 (6f)); P Carton (0-01), D O'Dwyer, A McCrabbe (1-00).

Subs used: J Boland for O'Dwyer (35 mins), K Dunne for Moran (39), D Connolly (1-00) for Nolan (48), S Loughlin for McCrabbe (60+1)