Dubs set for ultimate dual test of credentials
BOTH the hurlers and footballers of Dublin return to Croke Park on Saturday night with heads full of regrets from their last visit to HQ.
It's difficult to know which was more galling for Dublin GAA supporters, who are expected to turn out in their droves as the All-Ireland champions in both codes come calling.
Pat Gilroy's side had Cork on the ropes in the All-Ireland semi-final before indiscipline undid them, and that defeat was compounded when the Rebels went on to claim the All-Ireland title in the final against Down a few weeks later.
A few weeks earlier, the hurlers suffered a different kind of defeat when they turned a six-point lead into a minimum-margin defeat in the final 20 minutes against Antrim -- a loss which almost brought Anthony Daly's reign in the capital to an end.
"We probably had the game won and took it for granted so we have to learn from that," hurling goalkeeper Gary Maguire said yesterday ahead of the clash with Tipperary.
Dublin made amends for their poor showing against Waterford in the league last year when taking a point from Walsh Park over the weekend, with Maguire's Ballyboden clubmate Conal Keaney to the fore on his return from the football squad.
"He has the natural ability. He is a natural hurler, he has the skill. He is working hard at it; he knows that he is not there yet, that he has a fair bit to do. You have to be hurling every day, so he is no different," said Maguire.
Dublin went scoreless for 27 minutes last weekend but rallied late on, with Keaney landing the equalising score. "It was a worry because you'd be kind of thinking 'same old Dublin', but we showed great character to get the scores when we really needed them," said Maguire.
"That was a huge lift and we were kind of delighted to get a draw at the end."
After the hurlers and Jedward do their thing, the footballers also welcome the All-Ireland champions to Croke Park and the ghosts of last year still haunt Kevin McManamon.
"We had that cushion there for the majority of the game. We always had a three or four-point lead. When the penalty went in, they just reacted a bit quicker than we did and finished a bit stronger. Hopefully we will finish games a bit stronger this year," he said.
McManamon was one of the new faces drafted in by Pat Gilroy last season but he fell out of favour as the year wore on as Gilroy opted to start the likes of Eoghan O'Gara and David Henry alongside Bernard Brogan in the full-forward line.
And while the 24-year-old admits his disappointment at being left out, he knows that whoever starts in the forwards for Dublin this year will have to remove some of the scoring burden from Brogan.
"You would be doing well to keep that (scoring rate) up. Five of the six forwards scored the last day and Paul Flynn came on and got on the scoreboard. Any game where you get that many scorers is going to be good for you," he said.
"The other thing is, a lot of teams will be focusing on him. It gives you a bit of freedom because they might not be watching you as much. It's a good complaint to have when you have a player as good as him."