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Dublin: 13°C Sunday 16 May 2021

'Dotsy' O'Callaghan: Dublin hurling is in a good place

The Dublin legend feels that Pat Gilroy’s side were competitive in this year’s championship and can improve next season.

IN THE WEEKS leading up to this year’s Leinster Hurling Championship, Dublin players claimed that they weren’t just there to make up the numbers.

Pat Gilroy’s side barely stumbled to safety in Division 1B in the league and were brushed aside in Croke Park by Tipperary in the quarter-finals after winning just two games.

Perhaps it was too big a task for the new manager to turn things around so quickly.

Alan Flynn and Rian McBride Midfielder Rian McBride in possession during Dublin's 2-25 to 0-20 loss to Tipperary in April. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Four games later, Dublin not only assured championship hurling for 2019 but rubbed shoulders with the best in summer hurling and not looking one bit out of their depth.

Liam Blanchfield rescued the Cats in Donneycarney, Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford were rattled and the All-Ireland champions pushed to the brink in Salthill.

Each of those games decided by a puck of the ball, three narrow setbacks. Dublin led against Kilkenny after 70 minutes, led Wexford after 70 minutes and were level with Galway after 72 minutes.

A 17-point win to relegate Offaly assured Leinster hurling next year, providing Dublin with some kind of reward after the opening defeats to Kilkenny and Wexford.

Dublin legend David ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan retired from inter-county hurling in 2017 shortly after Gilroy’s appointment but feels that 2018 has been a hugely successful year for Dublin despite the losses.

“Overall, they didn’t win a game of note ultimately but they came very close and were a little unfortunate not to get over the line in one or two of them games,” Dotsy tells 

“They’re the inches you talk about and the season could have been completely different.

“Pat Gilroy and the management team will be looking at how to bring Dublin from being right there to making winning a habit, winning these games, really pushing on and being in a position to win honours.”

Paul Ryan celebrates scoring his sides first goal Paul Ryan celebrates scoring Dublin's first goal against Kilkenny last month. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

O’Callaghan was part of the Dublin team that won the Bob O’Keefe Cup and narrowly missed out on an All Ireland final in 2013 with Anthony Daly. He hurled for the county for 13 years.

He describes the preparation that Gilroy’s side had put in for the championship, they had hardly set the world alight, but there were glimpses of their potential.

“After the league, maybe they showed it at times; the first half against Tipperary they showed a quality level of hurling. In the first 15 minutes they showed the ability that is there.

“There was an unknown coming into the championship from the hurlers’ point of view but I remember hearing around that they had played a couple of challenge games and I think the challenge games had gone quite well.

“There was certainly a feeling coming into the Kilkenny game that they had a massive opportunity to go and win that. They were aware that Kilkenny were bringing in a lot of new guys and Dublin had Parnell Park, a little advantage there as well,” he says.

Many felt that their opening performance against Brian Cody’s side would be a once-off, a 1-24 to 3-16 loss broke the hearts of most in a full capacity Parnell Park. Dublin came back just six days later against Wexford.

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Shaun Murphy with Liam Rushe Liam Rushe's move to full-forward has caused defences big problems, the 2011 young hurler of the year was instrumental in Dublin's attack. Source: Tommy Greally/INPHO

The character shown to pick themselves up and challenge again against Davy Fitzgerald’s side is admirable and then to also measure themselves against the best team in the country is impressive, O’Callaghan can only praise the consistency shown by the team.

“That’s the big thing to admire because it’s a sign of character when you’re down like that and things aren’t going well that you can come back.

“Down through the years, consistency would have been a failing of ours. If they can achieve that level of consistency where they’re going to be in a game right up until the end each time, that will be a huge thing.

“They will be aware that they ultimately didn’t win a game, so you can’t afford to be sitting pretty thinking you’re (great). I’m sure they’re not too happy at this point but there’s certainly a lot to build on,” he says.

Dublin amassed a total score of 7-73 during the campaign, 3-9 more than the previous year. The emphasis has been on a high-tempo and with Liam Rushe reinvented as a target man – the St Pats Palmerstown man was the focal point of the attack.

Conal Keaney formed a deeper target man while Fergal Whitely and Paul Ryan posed as the primary outlets for Rushe and Keaney to supply and subsequently punish opposition. The addition of goal-scoring to Dublin’s attack has been vital.

Equally important for Gilroy and former Galway manager Anthony Cunningham’s game plan has been a strong defensive platform. Wing-forwards Danny Sutcliffe and Jake Malone operate in midfield while a sweeper is also employed.

Pat gilroy and Anthony Cunningham Former Galway manager Anthony Cunningham joined Gilroy's management team in 2017. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Dublin conceded just 1-85 in their four fixtures – in 2017 they leaked 9-69. A massive improvement. It’s also important to highlight that 0-39 of those scores came from frees: 45% of the scores conceded.

With over six months to work on the pitfalls, discipline will be a key point of focus for Gilroy and Dublin. Composure and decision-making are also factors that can be worked on, O’Callaghan claims.

“It’s (Dublin hurling) in a good position, I think,” he feels. “The defence unit looks extremely strong, they’ve built a great defence there and there was a lot of fantastic performances throughout the season.

“From the forwards’ view, there’s other guys to come back in and challenge for positions. Donal Burke and Trollier (Eamonn Dillon) missed out on a lot of the championship.

“There’s other guys that I’m sure Pat will be hoping will break through from the U21’s and give more options in the forward line.

“Ultimately, you see the tallies teams are racking up in the championship and I know Dublin finished with a strong scoreline but their tallies are gonna have to improve. Their point-scoring and decision-making in the forwards.

“I suppose you learn that in big games, in tight games but that’s certainly what the management would be looking at for next year. If they can start hitting higher tallies and improve point-scoring and decision-making in the forward line from midfield up: that’s going to make a huge difference.”

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