Daly delight as Dubs' show of 'character' denies Offaly
IT HAD been billed the 'Battle of the Banner' along the sideline but what transpired when Baker's Boys met Dalo's Dubs in this floodlit league opener was all about on-pitch leadership.
That is something the Dublin hurlers appeared to mislay badly last year, when one-point league losses became their unfortunate trademark.
The evidence in a snow-threatened Parnell Park on Saturday night – coughing up two late goals to lose a seven-point third-quarter lead to a significantly understrength Offaly – showed they are still far from perfect.
But coming out on the right side of a one-point margin kept Dublin's 100pc record this season intact, and it was the leadership shown at vital stages that most encouraged their manager.
"It wasn't great for your blood pressure on the line but it was a good test to come out of a game like that and show a bit of character when maybe we could have panicked," Anthony Daly observed.
At crucial stages that character was best showcased by Conal Keaney, Johnny McCaffrey, Joey Boland and, at the death, by new-look centre-back Liam Rushe, who soared mightily into the frosty night air to win a free off Offaly's final attack and keep the two points secure.
An unfortunate and untimely motorbike crash robbed Dublin of Keaney in the pivotal stages of 2011 and for last year's league, but this performance showed his cruciate injury is now well behind him.
Four of his 0-5 came in the second half, with each long-range boomer off the right wing more inspirational than the next, to underline the sort of power, skill and vision Keaney can bring.
In the first half it was Danny Sutcliffe who caught the eye, burning men repeatedly with his blistering pace and deft little touches. Dublin really should have been more than five up (0-11 to 0-6) at the break, spurning several goal chances, including one from Paul Ryan that forced a good save by Dermot Mooney.
But Sutcliffe was subsequently curtailed by some excellent marking from Chris McDonald, when Keaney and clubmate Conor McCormack took up the reins.
Dublin looked home and hosed when Keaney's most outrageous score put them 0-15 to 0-8 ahead after 47 minutes.
But then Offaly, whose misfiring attack had caught just two clean balls in the first half, finally got stuck in; the sight of Colin Egan getting a head injury finally seemed to stir their blood.
Top scorer Shane Dooley, Brian Carroll and Cathal Parlon led the comeback, and when Dooley grabbed a goal after Paul Schutte slipped in the 66th minute, it was a two-point game. With the next puck-out Dublin captain McCaffrey torched the Offaly defence with a marvellous run that saw his shot deflected by goalkeeper James Dempsey but gratefully scooped in by Sutcliffe. Debutant Kevin Byrne tagged on a point for a quick 1-1 reply that looked to have sealed the deal.
But five minutes later, albeit off a debatable 20-metre free, Dooley rammed home another goal and Offaly kept chipping away in the final four minutes until the clock ran out on them.
It was certainly Dublin, relegated last year, who played the better hurling, superior aerially and tactically, varying their use of the wings and diagonals, compared to a lot of 'hit and hope' from the visitors.
But as Daly observed: "Maybe we were trying to be too precise at times, trying to spring things from the training ground. Sometimes hurling is just instinctive and we talked about that at half-time."
His great Clare buddy and Offaly boss Ollie Baker acknowledged that if his side had won they'd have stolen it, yet he couldn't but regret that they didn't manage to salvage a point at least.
They left it far too late to get stuck in but were badly hit by the late loss of fullback David Kenny, who aggravated a hamstring injury in the warm-up.
For a team already shorn of so many between retirements, injury and the Kilcormac-Killoughey contingent, that undoubtedly influenced Offaly's turgid start but, as Baker observed, they can't afford a repeat now.
"I'm happy that we performed to a certain level but I'm disappointed as well that we didn't come out of here with something," he said.
"It's very simple for us now, we can't afford to lose any more matches. We lost one and drew one last year and, ultimately, it was the game we lost that put us out of the final. That's how tight this league is."
Sean Gardiner (19), back after recovering from a cruciate injury, and Tom Carroll were among the youngsters he called up, which demonstrates how transitional Offaly are at present, but they simply cannot continue to depend on Shane Dooley's free-taking, which yielded 1-9 of his whopping 2-9 tally.
Neither manager complained afterwards about referee James McGrath but some of his decisions were a tad puzzling and showed little evidence of the reported edict that hurling refs have been told to apply the letter of the law more rigidly this season.
Man of the Match: C Keaney (Dublin)
Scorers – Dublin: P Ryan 0-7 (6f), D Sutcliffe 1-2, C Keaney 0-5, C McCormack 0-3, J Boland, K Byrne, J McCaffrey 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 2-9 (10f), C Parlon, J Bergin (1f) 0-2 each, R Hanniffy, B Carroll, J Mulrooney 0-1 each.
Dublin – G Maguire 8; P Kelly 7, P Schutte 7, R Trainor 7; M Carton 6, L Rushe 8, S Durkin 7; J Boland 8, K Byrne 7; C Keaney 9, J McCaffrey 7, D Sutcliffe 8; P Ryan 7, C McCormack 8, M Schutte 6. Subs: D Treacy 7 for M Schutte (55), N Corcoran 7 for P Schutte (57), D O'Callaghan 6 for Sutcliffe (65), S Lambert for Byrne (68).
Offaly – J Dempsey 7; D Morkam 7, C McDonald 8, D King 7; D Mooney 5, K Brady 7, S Gardiner 6; R Hanniffy 6, S Ryan 5; B Carroll 6, J Bergin 5, C Parlon 7; S Dooley 7, J Mulrooney 5, O Kealey 5. Subs: C Egan 6 for Kealey (34), T Carroll 6 for Ryan (51), D Molloy 6 for B Carroll (65).
Ref – J McGrath (Westmeath)