Conal Keaney

Gilroy's early morning sessions back on the agenda as he welcomes Keaney into Dublin fold

35-year-old Conal Keaney featured in a challenge match against Waterford on Friday night.

Alan Moore with Simon Donohoe Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

EVEN AT THIS early stage of his reign, Pat Gilroy’s fingerprints can be seen all over the Dublin hurling team.

Just like his successful spell over the footballers, steel and defensive security have become hallmarks of the Gilroy template. That much has been evident during their Walsh Cup campaign and the various challenge matches they’ve played so far this month.

Physical players such as Darren Kelly and Tomas Connolly have been handed key roles so far in the spring and stand a good chance of logging significant minutes when the league gets underway.

Gilroy is attempting to turn Dublin into a meaner outfit and Conal Keaney’s return from the inter-county wilderness underlines that point. At 35 it was fair to assume Keaney’s days in the Dublin jersey were behind him, but Gilroy clearly has a role in mind for the Ballyboden St Enda’s veteran.

Keaney brings another experienced voice to the dressing-room, while his strength and game intelligence will be valuable assets as they face into the new round-robin format in Leinster.

“He was keen,” said Gilroy said of Keaney’s return after Dublin’s defeat to Wexford on Sunday.

“He wanted to do a programme over the winter which we put him on and he got through it. He picked up a little bit of an injury in the middle of it but he came through that fine and he’s in good shape.

Conal Keaney Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“He played against Waterford on Friday and did very well, and he did a session this morning. But again we are nursing him back into it, he had a number of injuries.

“We had another training session this morning with guys who were just coming back and all of them came through that well.”

During January, Dublin have tinkered between playing with a sweeper or flooding the midfield with a four-man half-forward line.

In his post-game interviews to date, Gilroy has placed great importance on not conceding goals and having a high conversion rate in attack. Over their Walsh Cup games against Wexford, Antrim and Meath, Dublin conceded just one green flag – to Wexford - while there are a number of first-choice defenders still to come back into the reckoning.

They conceded one goal when they took on Tipperary in a recent challenge match – a far cry from the six three-pointers the Premier smashed past Dublin in the championship last July.

Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald recognised the steady improvement Dublin have made under Gilroy.

“I’ll tell you now straight, I’ll be afraid of my life playing Dublin in the championship,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be 50-50 because they’ve a lot of lads to come back into that. We might have only maybe three or four.

Davy Fitzgerald Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“They were definitely way more physical than we were (in the first-half). You give him another few months of doing that job and…they’re not a team you want to come across I’ll put it to you that way.”

The sight of 2013 All-Star Danny Sutcliffe back in blue is another positive note, although he’s still a long way off his best form.

Gilroy confirmed the famous early morning training sessions he employed with the football squad are on the agenda for the hurlers, while their busy schedule will continue up until the league opener against Offaly.

“We’ll play internal games and we are playing DCU during the week as well. We’ll be training hard again this week. It would have been nice to get a game next Sunday but we’ll do an internal one instead.

“There’s been the odd (early morning session), yeah. Their appetite for work is phenomenal and you are putting them under pressure at the moment, so they are not as fresh for games as they could be so that’s fine.

“We’ve used 46 players in total in (pre-season) games. We’ll be cutting it back just below the 40 mark for the league. Again we have so many coming back from injury as well, we’ve five or six lads who will be back training with us alright but it will be another month before they are match fit.”

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