Daly's deadly Dubs end 52-years of hurt
IT HAS been a long time coming but the wait has been worth it for the Dublin hurlers.
More than half a century of repeated failures took them into some dark places but they emerged into the sunlight on a glorious summer afternoon in Croke Park yesterday to not only win the Leinster title but to issue a bold statement of intent on their future ambitions.
The Bob O'Keeffe Cup has been secured for the first time since 1961 but once the celebrations taper off over the next few days, Dublin's thoughts will turn quickly to what is now a real possibility that the Liam MacCarthy Cup can be added to their winter guest list.
In the space of eight days, Dublin have beaten last year's All-Ireland champions and runners-up in a fashion which suggests that the best may be yet to come from Anthony Daly's powerful adventurers. The manner in which Dublin adapted from the different tests they faced against Kilkenny and Galway was most impressive.
They dug deep with a gritty resolve in relatively low-scoring clashes with Kilkenny before expanding with a real flourish yesterday, taking Galway for 2- 25. Indeed, with more clinical finishing they would have had at least two more goals.
Still, 2-25 wins a lot more games than it loses and was certainly more than enough to sink a terribly disappointing Galway side who will find it very difficult to re-energise themselves for the All- Ireland quarter-finals.
Galway's erratic form in the league was attributed to an emphasis which supposedly geared everything towards the championship and while it was a less than plausible argument, they were given the benefit of the doubt.
When they struggled to dispose of Laois in the Leinster semi-final, it was put down to a lack of match practice, although that didn't sound especially convincing either.
And so to yesterday where they were beaten so comprehensively that they can have no excuses. Essentially, they had only one functioning forward and while Joe Canning is capable of doing an awful lot, he cannot carry all the attacking responsibility on his own. He did his best and despite hitting eight wides, he still finished up as joint-scorer (1-7) with Paul Ryan (2-4).
The big difference between the two was that whereas Canning got little support, Ryan had efficient accomplices who further contributed to Galway's misery. Conal Keaney, 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan, Danny Sutcliffe and Ryan O'Dwyer were all busy and inventive while further back Joey Boland and John McCaffrey established the agenda around midfield.
Defensively, Dublin were secure too, apart from a spell in the second half when they were hit for two goals in the space of five minutes. It cut Dublin's lead to six points heading into the final quarter and raised questions over whether their heavy schedule - this was their fifth game in 29 days - would leave them leg-weary.
The answer was provided most emphatically as they outscored Galway by 0-8 to 0-2 over the final quarter. A Canning free and and a point from sub Jonathon Glynn was the sum total of Galway's miserable return in that period while Dublin fired over a string of points, bringing their total number of scorers to 10.
David Treacy was the only one of Dublin's starting forwards not to score.
The other five contributed 2-17 between them while both midfielders, McCaffrey and Boland, wing-back Michael Carton and subs Simon Lambert and Conor McCormack all hit the target.
The contrast with Galway could scarcely have been more stark. Canning apart, their starting forward line scored only 1-2 between them. It's a shocking indictment and has left Galway supporters wondering why the attack has declined so dramatically since last year.
Midfield didn't function either with both Iarla Tannian and James Regan replaced. Indeed, when Anthony Cunningham felt compelled to begin repair work by withdrawing Regan after 21 minutes, it was a sign that Galway were already feeling uncomfortable. They were four points behind at the time but, by half-time, the deficit had increased to eight.
Dublin made a decisive break in the 24th minute when O'Callaghan fed Ryan who whipped the ball to the Galway net. Galway were left trailing in Dublin's impressive wake on the run-in to halftime with one stand-out incident summing up the difference in attitude between the teams.
McCaffrey and Stephen Hiney worked a one-two off a line ball before the Dublin captain angled over a great point in the 32nd minute, leaving Galway supporters to wonder why so much space was left unmanned off a dead ball situation. It wasn't the first or last time that Galway's reactions were far too slow.
Galway made a decent start to the second half, scoring the first two points but were then hit for 1-3 (Ryan's second goal came in the 41st minute) to leave them trailing by 2-15 to 0-9, a margin which looked way beyond their powers of retrieval. Canning's goal in the 50th minute, followed by another from David Burke four minutes later, briefly raised Galway's hopes but, as happened against Dublin two years ago, they seized up completely over the closing stretch.
The closest they came to causing Dublin a real scare was in the 65th minute when Canning brought a great save from Gary Maguire. A goal would have cut the margin to three points but instead Maguire ensured that it remained at six and his colleagues responded by adding six more in the closing minutes.
So then, Dublin are back in the All-Ireland semi-final for the second time in three seasons, only this time as impressive provincial winners, whereas they were well beaten by Kilkenny in the Leinster final in 2011.
Dublin look the real deal this time, capable of adapting to whatever challenge is put in front of them. They will face tougher tests than they encountered yesterday but such has been their rate of improvement that there's probably more room for expansion.
As for Galway, they are a pale shadow of the side that did so well last year and while they are still in the All-Ireland race, they can't be very confident of playing in Croke Park again this year.