Clare comparisons not that wide of the mark in Dublin
Anthony Daly has brought much of the good and some of the bad says Dermot Crowe
ANALOGIES between Anthony Daly's Dublin and the Clare side he captained in the 1990s are neither uncommon nor misplaced. Mainly they serve as useful parables for the non-believers; Clare did it, why can't Dublin?
Another similarity may emerge today. If Dublin beat Cork, and Galway drop points, they will emulate Clare's feat of 16 years ago in reaching a league final against Kilkenny, a stepping stone to the rip-roaring success that rapidly followed. The black and amber look destined to honour their side of the bargain by qualifying for the title decider on May 1.
How much of Clare's celebrated history repeats itself in Daly's current revolutionary crusade we'll have to wait and see. His mission, he cited modestly on arriving, was to move Dublin up a peg or two. Based on some impressive spring form, expectations have begun to swell and it is obvious that outside the county their hurling is winning over sceptics and earning genuine admiration.
Making Dublin competitive and stroppy in any company was Daly's first task. Handsomely assisted by the return of Conal Keaney, and the chance acquisition of Ryan O'Dwyer, it is safe to say that that much is being achieved. Daly was gifted two fine hurlers who can win their own ball but he had to deal with the inconsistency plague himself by lowering the existing tolerance levels. That now appears resolved -- they have maintained a highly attritional standard of hurling throughout the league.
The Clare team of the 1990s, to which they tend to be compared, was a hurricane force, borne of the demonic and impassioned management of Ger Loughnane, a legendary physical sacrifice and oft-eulogised speed sessions with the ball. The pace mantra which Daly preaches, like most hurling coaches, has been evident in Dublin's slick touch and movement throughout the spring. Their style of play is very reminiscent of Clare in the 1990s and it is unlikely that this is a coincidence.
But not all of the imitation is flattering. The early promise of the Galway league game, when Dublin compiled a tidy lead with excellent play, subsided and they began to stagnate as if developing a mini-rash of inconsistency within the game itself, supplanting the original ailment of being fitful from game-to-game. In this there are less auspicious comparisons with the Clare of Daly's time; they were notoriously prone to mood swings in games, wild fluctuations, peaks and troughs. When on top they threatened to knock teams out cold but their inept finishing often meant they were clawing for survival when they should have been winning pulling up.
Keaney embodied Dublin's frustration against Galway, accounting for nine of their 19 wides, yet all the time striving manfully to reverse his fortunes. After some exhibitions in the early rounds he was due a day when the ball didn't run his way. But, in forward play, composure and use of the ball need to be worked on assiduously and not left entirely to instinct and a balance of probability that massive amounts of possession will translate into enough scores to win a match.
When the wides count started mounting against Kilkenny a week later, and led them to the verge of another harsh defeat, it didn't prove emphatically that there is anything chronically wrong. Whether a high wides count will become a feature of Dublin's hurling remains to be seen. In Clare it certainly was. Whether the cause lay in an unsettled forward line, the frantic intensity of the play, or simply a lack of sufficiently skilled forwards, the statistics showed up a toxic level of missed chances.
In the Munster championship match against Cork that started the ball rolling in Clare's breakthrough year of 1995, they shot 20 wides. This is often overlooked in recollections of the day but it proved almost fatal.
In the All-Ireland final against Offaly that year, they hit 16 wides. Yet they managed to win. This spoke volumes for their work-rate, astounding fitness and ferocious will, but it also exposed a flaw in the design. They made life exceedingly hard on themselves. Though more refined by 1997, they hurled the same way.
That year's Munster final and All-Ireland final, both against Tipperary, had tense finales that did Clare's superiority a disservice. They also had a wobble in the 1997 semi-final against Kilkenny, a late DJ Carey goal causing heart flutters. In 1995, Galway were eating back into their lead when PJ O'Connell struck his only score of the match and broke the sequence. They missed a rake and they hurled in spasms; that was a common pattern. The same features have been evident in Dublin's hurling recently.
Daly will accept those imperfections if they win a Leinster championship or an All-Ireland. Or even a League. But it won't make the journey an easy one on the nerves.
Sunday Indo Sport