'If you had a team of Danny Sutcliffes, you'd win All-Irelands every year'
Published 29/05/2015 | 02:30
Anthony Daly tells a story about the time Danny Sutcliffe first announced himself to the Dublin squad. Two weeks before they were due to play Limerick in the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final, Dublin travelled to Thurles for a training match.
Sutcliffe was only out of minor. He hadn't played any league games. He hadn't been with the panel long but Daly was contemplating throwing him in against Limerick. He just wasn't sure Sutcliffe was fully ready. After Thurles, he knew he was.
At one stage of a hard-hitting training game, Sutcliffe clashed with Conor McCormack. McCormack took exception to Sutcliffe's tackle and hit him a dunt. Sutcliffe gave him one back. The two were getting stuck into each other when Conal Keaney, a clubmate of McCormack's, prised the two apart.
"Keaney told Conor to leave Danny alone, that he was only a young fella," says Daly.
"And Danny told Keaney to f*** off and mind his own business. I remember saying to the boys afterwards, 'Did ye hear Sutcliffe? Straight away, I was enamoured by him. Keaney and McCormack were even more impressed."
The respect and admiration Daly has for Sutcliffe is littered throughout his autobiography. The title of Chapter 8, 'Fearless Defiance', is taken from a scene Daly painted before Dublin's crucial last regulation league match against Tipp in March 2014.
Dublin could afford to draw or lose by less than two points to avoid a relegation final. They had put themselves in that position after beating Kilkenny the previous week, a performance inspired by Sutcliffe. He scored 1-5 from play, racking Tommy Walsh, who was substituted by half-time.
The attitude of fearless defiance that Daly was trying to instil in the players was personified by Sutcliffe.
"What I saw from you last Saturday night (against Kilkenny)," Daly said to Sutcliffe that week, "was you taking on probably the greatest wing-back of all time. And you backed yourself. That's what I want to see from everybody. Guys backing themselves."
Sutcliffe has always believed in himself. Dublin hurling often had an identity crisis, with players doubting their perceived status in hurling's hierarchy, but Sutcliffe never did.
"He is fearless, both on and off the field," says Daly. "He never cared for reputations. Danny wanted to be on Tommy Walsh. He wanted to run at him every time he got the ball. Danny never felt anyone from Kilkenny was better than him.
"He used to remind me a bit of Jamesie (O'Connor), Seánie (McMahon) and (Brian) Lohan when they first arrived with Clare. Danny never wanted to just hurl for Dublin, he was going to win with Dublin. His enthusiasm is infectious; he has that fierce confidence in himself that you cannot buy.
"He never feared anyone or any team and he believed everyone should think that way. Unfortunately, not everyone is built like him, but he has a great gift, and huge mental strength."
You can gauge Sutcliffe's talent and mental strength through his performances against Kilkenny.
In the League meeting in March, he was brilliant, scoring 0-4 from play. On the day Dublin finally broke Kilkenny's Championship stranglehold over them in the Leinster semi-final replay in 2013, Sutcliffe was one of Dublin's outstanding players. His second-half goal was the game-breaker.
"I was roaring at him to hit it over the bar," says Daly. "But Danny just backed himself."
Around Templeogue, they knew they had a special talent on their hands as soon as Sutcliffe began to develop. Martin Hayes, who managed Sutcliffe with the Dublin minors, first came across him when he was 12. Sutcliffe was friends with his son Emmet.
"Even at U-12," says Hayes, "Danny was the best underage player I ever saw."
He was exceptional for more than just his ability. When he was U-14, St Jude's won the Feile Division 1 football title and Sutcliffe was captain.
"He asked one of the lads in the club if it was okay if he made the speech in Irish," recalls Seán Fallon, St Jude's senior hurling manager. "For a 14-year-old to have that presence of mind was something else. Apart from his talent, you knew he was a special guy."
A Dublin minor for three years, Daly handed him his debut in that 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final. In 2013, he was an All Star at just 21.
A broken hand ravaged his season last summer but he returned to drive St Jude's to their first county hurling final. They lost to Kilmacud Crokes after extra-time but Sutcliffe was superb.
"When Danny gets his dander up and his game-face on, he can be unmarkable," says Hayes.
"In certain parts of his game, you can compare him to Henry Shefflin in how he can drift from his marker into space without being caught. His timing is impeccable and he will always arrive on the front foot to the ball.
"You can even see that with football. He's an unbelievable footballer. If he wanted to, he'd walk onto the Dublin football squad.
"The bigger the day, the better he gets. You saw that last year in the club championship. A lot will depend on how much Dublin progress, but Danny can be whatever he wants. He has done an awful lot of hurling and there has been a lot of expectation on him but if continues to improve, he can be one of the best players in the game.
"In my opinion, he's already in the top five. He's in the same bracket as Richie Hogan, TJ Reid and Tony Kelly."
Daly is in no doubt about Sutcliffe's status within the game now. "He's an absolute dinger," he says. "He is also Dublin's marquee player now."
On a team loaded with talent and big names, Sutcliffe has, along with Liam Rushe, become the most identifiable face of Dublin hurling.
Sutcliffe appears on the TV advertisement for AIG as Dublin's sponsors alongside Bernard Brogan. He is a big brand, but Sutcliffe has always been an extremely grounded, humble and genuinely nice person.
"Danny is very loyal to his club and his friends," says Fallon. "He has a good balance at home and in his life. He is a very ordinary guy, more than accommodating to do anything.
"He is an unbelievable talent but his best quality is he always has time for everybody. He has a fantastic way with people. It's a great trait of his personality that he can engage with anyone."
A Business Economics Social Science student at Trinity College, Sutcliffe has spent the last couple of summers working with DC Poultry.
"He'd be coming to training and I'd be slagging him about selling chickens," says Daly. "'How many of those yokes did ya sell today? You'd knock great craic out of him. Danny is one of these guys you'd love to have around the place."
Tall, athletic, strong, rangy, with searing pace, injury has curtailed his season to date but when Sutcliffe has been fit and ready, he has taken off. When Dublin met Galway in the league in March in Parnell Park, he went to town, scoring 0-5 from play.
Shutting him down on Sunday will be one of Galway's priorities, but stopping Sutcliffe is often like trying to hold mercury between your fingers.
"If you could have a team of Danny Sutcliffes," says Daly, "you'd be winning All-Irelands every year."
Fearless. Defiant. And top class.