Cunningham toasts flying young guns
Published 27/02/2012 | 05:00
It is advised that the next few paragraphs must be treated with extreme caution. Some may indeed treat them with downright scepticism on the basis that they have heard it all before.
Galway hurling has witnessed several spring tides over the last 24 years, so enthusiasm for league victories in February and March may be tempered somewhat.
But under new management, with eight of last year's U-21 team starting and two more coming off the bench, there were far too many positive aspects to dismiss for those of a maroon hue in the 3,241 crowd, as they came away from Pearse Stadium. That fact can't be suppressed by the weight of previous false dawns.
The decision of the management to release so many experienced players from last year's squad within days of their appointment was a risk in one sense, but, on this evidence, a calculated one that could well be justified quicker than anyone expected.
It's difficult to recall a better debut in any county than Niall Burke's at centre-forward.
Galway hurlers have been accused in recent years of lacking leadership when the chips were down but in Burke, one of the U-21 octet that started, they have a player who clearly doesn't baulk at responsibility.
He led the line brilliantly, put himself in among bulkier defenders fearlessly and, in Joe Canning's absence through injury, he whipped over 10 points, five from placed balls, including two '65s'.
Some of his scores looked effortless and the departure of Joey Boland, Dublin's experienced centre-back, after 50 minutes was testament to the impact he made.
Around him some of his former U-21 colleagues were buzzing. Conor Cooney has an imposing physique and used it effectively as he helped himself to four points, while James Regan got on the end of three more for a fruitful afternoon.
In defence, Niall Donoghue -- last year's U-21 full-back -- had a magnificent second half while Fergal Moore, released from corner-back duties, looked very comfortable at centre-back. Older hands like Iarla Tannian and Cyril Donnellan grafted hard and it's a while since you could say with such certainty that a Galway team prevailed in a physical battle.
"It was great to get over the physical battle. That was what pleased us most. Dublin are a very physical side," said manager Anthony Cunningham. "We are delighted, for a new management and practically a new team and to get over the line the first day out is great."
Inevitably, Burke got a special mention for what he achieved on his debut.
"It was a fantastic performance by Niall," Cunningham said. "He has been going very well for NUIG and with us as well. He is a great prospect but to get to the very top will take time and effort.
"We have the raw materials. That would be the clear message from here. But we need time to get to the top of our game. We have the players but we won't be getting carried away with this. The big question is how much we can develop."
For Dublin, it was easily their poorest performance since their 2010 championship exit to Antrim.
There was no spark to them and little of that manic desire that underlined so much of their play last season in league and championship. The fact that they didn't pick up a single yellow card says more about their reticence for battle than the precision of their tackling.
Anthony Daly didn't dispute the observation that their hosts were hungrier. "The way it seemed on the day was the Galway boys wanted the 50/50 balls more than we did. Why that is, I don't know," he said.
"Everything seemed right during the week. We were happy with the preparation and we were happy with ourselves coming into it." Clutching the DVD afterwards, Daly suggested that answers lay within, but you sense that whenever Dublin meet again this week Daly will take a more primal than forensic route to curing some of the ills exposed.
It's far too early to draw the easy conclusion that they are still basking in their 2011 achievements, but Daly may be keen to dispatch harsh words that time won't stand still for them.
In fact, over the next few weeks they can expect it to move at breakneck speed. With Cork up next at Croke Park, a second successive defeat would raise the prospect of relegation for the league champions.
Daly refused to blame their training regime for a lethargic performance. "We are training hard, so is everyone else. That's the bottom line. We're going hard, the Galway boys are going hard, everyone is going hard."
They finished with 14 men when, having used all their five substitutes by the 55th minute, Peter Kelly aggravated a knee injury and had to come off.
Liam Rushe was also off the field by the break after sustaining a hip injury, but, like so many of his attacking colleagues, his impact was minimal.
Conor McCormack did pick off a couple of first-half points and Ryan O'Dwyer lacked nothing in graft in the last quarter, winning two frees and converting them after Paul Ryan had departed.
They were trailing this game from the 28th second when Burke pointed a 55-metre free after Donnellan was fouled, and they never got level subsequently.
Playing against a strong wind, Galway made the running with David Burke and Donnellan driving on from midfield.
Dublin created goal chances, but Shane Stapleton was thwarted by a brilliant Moore block on 21 minutes and Ryan had a 21-metre free blocked by David Collins.
By the break Galway led 0-9 to 0-8 and with wind advantage to come, the game was theirs to lose. The crucial period for them came between the 43rd and 57th minutes when they outscored the reigning champions by 0-7 to 0-1.
Daly will press pause and rewind plenty of times on the DVD for answers because this really wasn't good enough for a team that has come such a long way over the last 12 months.
Man of the Match: Niall Burke (Galway)
Scorers -- Galway: N Burke 0-10 (3f, 2 '65'), C Cooney 0-4, J Regan 0-3, I Tannian, D Hayes, C Donnellan 0-1 each. Dublin: P Ryan (5f, 1 '65') 0-6, R O'Dwyer (2f), C McCormack 0-2 each, D Sutcliffe, S Durkin, L Rushe 0-1 each.
Galway -- J Skehill 7; D Connolly 7, D Collins 7, G O'Halloran 7; T Og Regan 6, F Moore 8, N Donoghue 8; D Burke 7, C Donnellan 7; C Cooney 8, N Burke 9, I Tannian 7; D Hayes 6, B Daly 5, J Regan 7. Subs: J Coen 6 for Daly (35), E Ryan 5 for Donnellan (59), B Burke for Regan (61), J Cooney for C Cooney (69).
Dublin -- G Maguire 8; N Corcoran 6, P Kelly 7, R Treanor 5; M Carton 6, J Boland 5, S Durkin 7; J McCaffrey 6, D Sutcliffe 7; C McCormack 7, R O'Dwyer 6, L Rushe 5; D Treacy 5, S Stapleton 5, P Ryan 5. Subs: A McCrabbe 5 for Rushe (h-t), D O'Dwyer 6 for Stapleton (44), S Lambert 5 for Treacy (48), M O'Brien 5 for Boland (50), Eamonn Dillon for Ryan (58).
Ref -- D Kirwan (Cork).