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Taking stick: What constitutes success for Dublin's hurlers this year?

Anthony Daly had a great 2011 but fans must remain realistic about a county side that was only gaining promotion from the third tier of hurling five years ago.

Anthony Daly: building.
Anthony Daly: building.
Image: INPHO/Mike Shaughnessy

WHERE TO FOR Dublin?

The only way has been up in recent years but after the highs of 2011, you wonder what constitutes success for Anthony Daly in 2012.

For Dublin fans still giddy from toasting a National Hurling League title and an All-Ireland semi-final appearance, they must now counterbalance expectation with realism.

Firstly, another league defeat for Daly’s side after going down in Galway will dramatically lower their chances of making a league semi-final and in turn would end their defence of that title.

Secondly, getting to another Leinster final and actually winning one would most likely involve beating both Kilkenny and Galway.

Latterly and possibly most crucially, the early signs are that the qualifiers will founder at least one top side this year due to the apparent revivals of Clare, Cork and Galway. Circa 2009 and 2010, Dublin have lost games they shouldn’t have to Limerick and Antrim respectively in that particular graveyard.

Plenty of cold water there and no doubt Dublin fans will react in the manner any cat would to these sentiments. Indeed beating the Cats in Leinster – assuming Dublin overcome the winners of Carlow/Laois – in championship hurling would more than deliver on expectations no matter what else happens in 2012. After all, Dublin couldn’t have dreamed of that five years ago.

Great expectations

And that’s precisely why fans must be realistic. Five years ago, Dublin had only just come up from Division 2B, effectively the third tier. Yes, the change has been rapid meaning what was good yesterday no longer applies today but this is still a team and a panel that is growing. From a county that achieved promotion from NHL2B with victory over Kerry in 2006, maybe seven of those who featured that day remain on the panel. It will always take time.

But to go from playing the likes of Meath, Derry, Carlow and Roscommon to an All-Ireland semi may have bloated expectations.

But not heads, you would imagine – not inside the camp anyway. Because go back 20 years and we see exactly why Daly is so well suited to taking a team from basement to penthouse in the space of a few short seasons. He was part of the Clare team that stirred initially under Len Gaynor before eviscerating opposition with Ger Loughnane in charge; in the same way, Dublin began to make moves under Tommy Naughton and now Daly has sped up the wheels.

“We were a kind of team of no-hopers before the 1990s,” Daly said last year of Clare. “Then Len Gaynor came along as manager and picked us up off the floor and made us into hopers. He introduced new young lads and even spoke of winning the All-Ireland, rather than just having pride in wearing the jersey. Ger Loughnane took things to new extremes when he took over as Clare manager in 1995.”

Daly’s Dublin is a team that, even if they won’t say it publicly, are moulded the same way. Leinster and All-Ireland titles are the aims, and so it should be in the medium term. The talent is in the camp, and their self-belief is massive. How else would a team missing five of its better players push so closely what was then thought to be an unstoppable Tipperary side in the All-Ireland semi-final last year? They couldn’t.

So while we may question their credentials as Leinster champions this year, we have already seen how capable they are of responding when cast as no-hopers.

Not to mention they have seen what it is like to stand on a burning platform as hopers, as they did when mauled by Kilkenny in last year’s Leinster final. They’ve shown they will recover; lessons have already been learned.

Then that’s what fans need to realise; this team may receive knock-backs along the way. For the breakthroughs that were making Leinster finals, an All-Ireland semi and winning a league title, there was always a Limerick, Antrim or Kilkenny misstep around the corner. Pushing the top sides and making an All-Ireland quarter-final this season may not be the aim right now, but that would constitute success. Even if they are and will be capable of more down the line.

Daly before the 1995 All-Ireland hurling final. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Daly may have won an All-Ireland in 1995 from apparently nowhere but that was in a spell where the old order fell back and Clare, Wexford and Offaly stood up. Dublin will have to do it the hard way because this Kilkenny team – for one – looks to be going nowhere. “There’s been a missing person in Clare for 81 long years,” shouted Daly when he lifted the All-Ireland for Clare in 1995 and banished the curse of Biddy Earley. “Today, that person has been found alive and well. And that person’s name is Liam MacCarthy.”

Dublin have not won it since 1938 meaning they are in year 74 and counting but the Clare man will be looking to beat his old record with his adopted sons. Perhaps patience and perseverance will be required before that happens.

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About the author:

Shane Stapleton

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