Thursday 8 December 2016

Dublin's focus on football is keeping the hurlers from hitting their true potential

Cunningham shakes up panel but major talent remains unavailable

Published 08/11/2016 | 02:30

Dublin hurling manager Ger Cunningham can’t call on Con O’Callaghan who scored 4-3 for Cuala on Sunday, or Ciaran Kilkenny, who scored a goal for Dublin in the 2011 All-Ireland minor hurling final. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin hurling manager Ger Cunningham can’t call on Con O’Callaghan who scored 4-3 for Cuala on Sunday, or Ciaran Kilkenny, who scored a goal for Dublin in the 2011 All-Ireland minor hurling final. Photo: Sportsfile

Yesterday morning, Ger Cunningham unveiled his extended Dublin hurling panel.

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It was noteworthy for a few things, not least the absence of more of the men who secured Leinster glory under Anthony Daly in 2013. The passing of time meant the shake-up of the panel that served so well under the Clare man was inevitable.

And in calling up a handful of last year's Leinster minor and U-21 winning sides, Cunningham has made it clear he is looking firmly towards the future.

But perhaps the most notable event for Dublin hurling over the weekend came as county champions Cuala dismantled Laois kingpins Borris-Kilcotton in Parnell Park.

They advanced to a provincial semi-final thanks largely to the heroics of Con O'Callaghan, who hit 4-3 - all from play - of his side's 4-16.

And in his match-winning performance that lay the crux of the issue facing Dublin hurling as they look to continue their progress.

Con O'Callaghan. Photo: Sportsfile
Con O'Callaghan. Photo: Sportsfile

For all of the strides made in recent years and for all of the improvements in the club game, accessing some of the county's best players remains, by and large, out of their reach.

O'Callaghan, who is eligible for the U-21 grade in 2017, is already in with Dublin's footballers and showed enough in his debut season to suggest he'll be a part of Jim Gavin's squad for some time to come.

And he made the decision to play football despite the fact that his brother Cian is already an established part of the hurling panel. Even when the hurlers feel they have a head-start in recruiting a talented youngster, the lure of football can whip them from under their noses.

At one stage in the last decade, they looked like they might pick up at least some of the talented dual players operating around the capital.

Ciarán Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Ciarán Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile

Conal Keaney returned to the small-ball code having spent time with the footballers, as did David 'Dotsie' O'Callaghan. But in the main, some of Dublin's best hurlers chose to play football, for obvious reasons.

Early in his career, Ciaran Kilkenny made it clear he'd like to combine both but that door was quickly shut.

Despite spending much of the past few seasons on the bench for the Dublin footballers, Cormac Costello didn't jump ship to the hurlers either.

Rory O'Carroll isn't available to either outfit now but when asked if he was good enough to play intercounty hurling for Dublin after seeing him play for UCD, Tipperary legend Nicky English replied that he could "do a job for Kilkenny".

There's others too. Diarmuid Connolly is well regarded in Dublin hurling circles but ruled out the possibility of playing for them at some stage last week.

Tomas Brady swapped a lead role with the hurlers, after they won their breakthrough league title in 2011, for a bit part with the footballers.

Eric Lowndes and Conor McHugh played in All-Ireland minor hurling finals in 2011 and 2012 but both are in and around the football panel. Emmet O Conghaile was also a promising hurler but has had to bide his team while waiting on a football breakthrough.

And Borris-Kilcotton manager Ken Hogan agreed that football's pre-eminence is impeding the county's hurlers.

"The dilemma for Dublin is that as these outstanding footballers are outstanding hurlers as well, and it's just a pity they don't get to play on the big stage in hurling. It would be great to have him."

There are a number of other high-profile absentees.

Johnny McCaffrey - captain for the 2013 Leinster success and who made his debut in 2006 - is no longer part of the set-up. Peter Kelly, who won an All-Star that year, is also out. Another veteran, Niall Corcoran, is omitted, along with Daire Plunkett, Paul Ryan, Niall Corcoran and Glenn Whelan. Shane Durkin also opted out.

Danny Sutcliffe, probably Dublin's most talented forward, remains on the outside looking in and is expected to spend much of 2017 travelling.

In all, 12 of the 20 players who played in the 2013 Leinster decider are not involved.

Irish Independent

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