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Leinster SHC: McCaffrey says Dublin could have made league semi-final

Midfield grafter says the boys in blue deserved more for their efforts in Division 1A but that relegation has been forgotten and there is a championship buzz around the place.

John McCaffrey on the Etihad Skyline in Croke Park
John McCaffrey on the Etihad Skyline in Croke Park
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

JOHNNY McCAFFREY HAD the honour.

He might have shared it with the stricken Stephen Hiney but one of his hands lifted Dublin’s reality-changing piece of silverware last season.

Beating Kilkenny in a league final in such convincing fashion put Dublin on the map. Proper. Because up to that point, most people outside the pale didn’t think Dublin’s colours could be on any serious hurling silverware.

Fast-forward 12 months and the outlook has changed somewhat. The team have been relegated from Division 1B and they have yet to win a competitive games this year. In fact, Laois beat them in the Walsh Cup too.

But how does McCaffrey reflect on the league campaign? “Very positively, to be honest,” he says. “We put in big performances in a lot of the games. Bar the game against Galway, we were very competitive and could have won a couple of more games.

“If luck was on our side, we could have got to a league semi-final. They were the small margins in the league and we haven’t thought about it since the Galway (relegation play-off) game on the second day.

“It’s been put to bed and we’re really looking forward to championship and there’s a great buzz around the place.”

McCaffrey is on the money, Dublin were small margins away from making the top three in Division 1A. They should have beaten Cork and missed a handy free to level it, threw away a chance to go four up late on against Kilkenny when another score would have finished it off, and played well enough against Tipperary to warrant at least that draw.

Having won it out last year, the league was always going to be secondary this. We ask McCaffrey what would be a successful year in 2012.

“Really what we’re thinking of at the moment is every day as it comes – cliché as it is,” he grins. “Putting on a performance each day we go out and seeing where that takes us.

“Hopefully we’ll pick up a cup along the way, that’d be brilliant. Hopefully if we put on a performance each day, we’ll be up there with the big teams.

Laois aren’t seen as a big team but there’s rarely been much in it when the O’Moore men come to town.

Johnny McCaffrey and Stephen Hiney lifted the league title in 2011 ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

“We’re expecting a big, physical battle,” the Lucan Sarsfields man says. “They’ve got through a championship match already with Carlow so they have an extra advantage on us. They’re up to championship pace.

“We know we’ve got to expect a lot of hits, especially early on and they’re not going to fear Dublin as much as they would anyone else. We’re looking forward to the weekend and hoping to get off to a good start.

“We played them at minor and under-21. They’re always difficult – never easy games. We’ve never beaten them by that much and we’re expecting the same on Saturday.

“You’re always expecting that, if you give them a chance or an opportunity, they’ll put the ball away. No matter who you play, that’s going to happen.

“We have to be on our guard and on our game and make sure we’re physically right. If we are, we’ll hopefully get the right result.”

Willie Hyland scored 0-13 as Laois accounted for Carlow and while he is the go-to guy, there is more to be concerned with than just one man. Such as Conor Dunne, Matthew Whelan, Mick McEvoy who will fill out shirt numbers five to seven.

“Their half-back line is quite strong. The three lads across are good ball-winners and Willie Hyland will punish frees and punish from play also. We have to be very wary of that and counteract that also.”

Dublin will see their ‘cruciate trio’ of Tomás Brady, Conal Keaney and Stephen Hiney all return to championship action this weekend but Martin Quilty is the latest to fall foul of the injury, while Paul Schutte had a lucky escape.

Can McCaffrey explain the injury’s prevalence among Dublin players?

“I suppose there is a lot more training involved now than there was a couple of years ago. We really are well-looked after. Martin (Kennedy), our physical trainer, makes sure we’re in the right condition to go training and play matches.

“You know, these things happen, and I know it’s happened a few times to us, but it’s a contact sport. It’s not just happening to Dublin, it’s happening in other places as well.

“We’re unlucky that it’s probably just happened a little more with us. We’re not going out on the pitch worrying about anything like that; we know we’re in the best shape we can be.”

Johnny McCaffrey was at Croke Park for the launch of the Etihad Skyline.

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Shane Stapleton

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