Daly's Dublin on the rise
Published 19/04/2011 | 05:00
Anthony Daly's side openly targeted a league final spot last year only for it all to go wrong, but in 2011 they have seemingly turned the corner.
Last year's championship loss to Antrim in Croke Park when they seemed in control hinted at a brittleness in the squad, but the manner of their draw against Kilkenny and the come-from-behind win against Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh at the weekend suggest those days are over.
And that Daly has managed this without a number of established players makes the feat all the more impressive, with the Dublin boss recently admitting that the enforced changes to his side could prove to be a "blessing in disguise".
Only a couple of years ago, Dublin would have been stretched without the likes of Stephen Hiney, Liam Rushe and Joey Boland, but they have a range of options in each line of the team.
The capture of dual star Conal Keaney was a huge boost and he made a blistering start to the league campaign on his return to hurling. And even when the Ballyboden man's form slipped towards the end of the league others like Paul Ryan and David 'Dotsie' O'Callaghan took up the scoring slack.
The acquisition of Tipp native Ryan O'Dwyer has also given them a new physicality in the forward line, 2009 All Star Alan McCrabbe came off the bench against Cork, while Daire Plunkett looks like a real find.
Kilkenny await in the league final (the Dubs' first appearance in the decider in 65 years) and while the championship will be another step up for the county's new faces, right now, Dublin are sitting pretty.
The five-in-a-row bid in tatters, Henry Shefflin and John Tennyson recovering from long-term knee injuries and Derek Lyng and James Ryall have retired.
You could be forgiven for thinking Brian Cody and his men entering a transition period, but still they find themselves in the league final without really breaking a sweat.
A draw with Dublin in Croke Park and a loss away to Galway in a thriller were the only blots on the copy book, despite never really looking like they were operating anywhere near their peak.
The raft of injuries they picked up in the win over Offaly at the weekend will be a concern, although they have more than coped so far without several big names at various stages of the league.
They face Dublin in the league final on Sunday week and on the last two occasions they won the league, All-Ireland success followed. Anthony Daly insisted Kilkenny will be a different proposition come championship time and they'll have another massive say this summer.
Like his old Clare team-mate Anthony Daly, Davy Fitzgerald has made running repairs to his side and still produced a very respectable league campaign.
Dan Shanahan jumped before the start of the league, Ken McGrath left during it as the Deise side that thrilled for much of the last decade slowly breaks up, while Maurice Shanahan picked up an injury.
But the likes of Pauric and Philip Mahony, David and Brian O'Sullivan and Darragh Fives are among the newcomers who have impressed.
Shane Walsh has shown an eye for goal, and with some of his more experienced players returning soon, Fitzgerald faces the difficult task of mixing youthful enthusiasm with big game experience. A third place finish in the league sets them up nicely for a tilt at Limerick in the Munster championship.
Joe Dooley was putting a brave face on it after his side were relegated from the top flight on Sunday, pointing out that he won an All-Ireland from Division 2 during his playing days.
A solitary win over Wexford was all they had to show for their efforts, and while their cause wasn't helped by injury, a return to Division 2 means much of the early part of the 2012 season will be merely target practice against inferior opposition.
And even though they'll be expected to reach next year's Division 2 decider, promotion is far from certain as either Clare or Limerick will be in hurling's second tier. Of more immediate concern is the trip to face Dublin in Parnell Park and there were 13 points between the teams when they met in Tullamore in March.
A disappointing end to a mundane campaign, Denis Walsh signalled his intentions by jettisoning Sean Og O hAilpin at the start of the year but the new guard haven't delivered just yet.
Wins over Offaly and Galway were as good as it got as the Rebels lost their final two matches, first to a previously struggling Wexford, while they let Dublin off the hook in Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday.
Cian McCarthy (son of Teddy) and Conor Lehane are two of the brighter lights on the panel but the latter latter will miss the championship opener against Tipperary as he will be sitting his Leaving Cert.
They still depend on the likes of John Gardiner and Ben O'Connor, but the Rebels have the talent to turn it around and the chance to derail the Tipp bandwagon might just be the fillip required to rouse them from their slumber.