Hurling & Camogie

Christy O’Connor: Dublin future is bright but risk of Cork rocking their foundations

Kilkenny vs Dublin.jpg
Kilkenny vs Dublin.jpg (seamus loughran)

As the Dublin players were marching behind the Artane Band before the Leinster final against Kilkenny, Anthony Daly, the former Dublin manager, spoke in his pre-game analysis on ‘The Saturday Game Live’ about his fears for what may be about to happen.

Daly was speaking from experience because he had been in that position before on numerous occasions. In 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, Dublin went into games against Kilkenny in a blaze of hype and hope because they had done so well against them in their previous championship game, or in the case of 2011, the league final – which Dublin won well. And each time, the outcome was ugly for Dublin.

“My worry, because I went through this,” said Daly to Joanne Cantwell “is that when the Dubs are talked up and built up, the Cats can come along – ye did it to us a few times (turning to Jackie Tyrrell beside him) – and just savaged us.

“This team is not that team but at the same time, Dublin need to start well. You can’t be going down 1-2 to 0-1 because this crowd won’t let up. I’d have a worry too about Paddy Doyle on (Adrian) Mullen.”

Everything Daly said was impressively prescient and, unfortunately for Dublin, exactly how it played out. Kilkenny had 1-3 on the board inside five minutes. Kilkenny led by 15 points at half-time. Dublin set up with a plus-one but Doyle was still too far off Mullen, who ended that first half with six points from eight shots.

Kilkenny vs Dublin  4  .jpg
Kilkenny vs Dublin 4 .jpg (seamus loughran)

Kilkenny won by 16 points, which was the second highest winning margin in a Leinster final in the last 70 years. A number of other trends, which are heavily bound up in the culture and tradition of the fixture, were also evident. In their previous 26 meetings over the last 50 years, Kilkenny had won 18 of them by six points or more. This was Kilkenny’s third biggest win against Dublin across the last five decades.

Dublin kept going and tried to hunt down some form of respectability but the scoreboard never hid the truth. Dublin only had six less shots (40-46) but their conversion rate was 48 per cent compared to Kilkenny’s 67 per cent.

Dublin had plenty of possession – they just didn’t use it effectively enough. In total, they turned over the ball a colossal 43 times, with a high percentage of that possession coughed up from unforced errors, aimless short passes and poor decision-making. And Kilkenny ruthlessly punished them for that sloppiness, mining 1-18 off turnovers.

The outcome was all the more disappointing again considering how Dublin had run Kilkenny to two points in Parnell Park three weeks earlier, in a game they could have won. There was a suspicion beforehand that Dublin may be more suited to Croke Park but Kilkenny quickly knocked that notion out of their heads.

Less than 12 months after Clare had hammered Dublin by 18 points in an All-Ireland quarter-final, Dublin looked like they had arrested that trend of shipping big hidings. There were stages during the league when they looked on the road to nowhere but they rediscovered their way during the championship and finally appeared to be on the road to somewhere. So after careering into the ditch against Kilkenny, where do Dublin go next?

Finding that correct pathway has been a struggle since Daly left a decade ago. Just before he stepped down at the end of 2014, Daly admitted that staying on would have required another three-year term to begin that rebuilding process.

Managing that transition was always going to be difficult for whoever came after Daly but that process was subsequently contaminated by personality clashes and some hard and big decisions by Ger Cunningham, especially when the heaviest demolition work begun in year three of Cunningham’s term.

When Pat Gilroy took over in 2018, his philosophy was heavily focussed on finding and developing new players, but Gilroy was also aware of the need to get some of the departed back, which he did.

When Gilroy departed after just one year, Mattie Kenny took over for four seasons, where he too tried to get that balance right between introducing new players and keeping the team competitive. There was a consistency of selection but Dublin still couldn’t make that next step.

Could they under Micheál Donoghue? Not long after he arrived in late 2022, Donoghue found out that a raft of the squad weren’t going to be around in 2023. After radical reconstruction, Donoghue then had to plan without another cohort this year; Cian Boland, Chris O’Leary, Andy Dunphy, Cillian Costello, AJ Murphy, Aidan Mellett and Kevin Burke. There has been a 50 per cent change in personnel since Donoghue took over.

Ultimately for Dublin to come again as a force, another generation of talented and ambitious players needed to arrive. In comparative terms, only Cork and Tipperary can boast more adult club hurlers. In theory, the raw material should exist. The challenge was to find it.

Donoghue and his management have. Conor Donohoe, Dublin’s centre-back, was only on the fringes of the panel in 2022. So was Seán Currie. When management went to see Naomh Barrog play to watch two players in a Division 3 game in late 2022, they picked out Paddy Doyle, who was still under 20 last year.

Brian Hayes, who was also outstanding up to the Leinster final, had never played county minor or U20 before being spotted with Kilmacud Crokes. Mark Grogan, one of their best players last year, was also identified through his club form with Kilmacud. Nobody had heard about Darragh Power from Fingallians but he has turned into a key player.

Having managed Galway to an All-Ireland, Donoghue has a proven track record of getting the job done. He has tried to return that strut and swagger that Dublin played with under Daly but that confidence has taken a serious hit since the Leinster final.

Can Dublin rediscover it again now ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork? They are rank outsiders but Dublin need to make a stand now at least. The roof caved in against Kilkenny but Donoghue and his management have established a strong foundation for the future.

They just can’t allow Cork to rock it again like Kilkenny shook that framework to its core.