Five hurdles Dubs must clear on way to holy grail
Gaining momentum from league while keeping a grip on expectations key to success for Daly, writes Liam Kelly
THE sleeping giant that is Dublin hurling has one more step to take before the renaissance of the game in the capital is complete -- and that is to win the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time since 1938.
Will they do it in 2014? Tantalisingly, in a dream scenario, Dublin would take the field four times in the summer, win all four matches, and claim the All-Ireland title.
They start, on paper, with a big advantage because their status as Leinster champions automatically brings a place in the provincial semi-finals. Win that game, followed by the Leinster final, then the All-Ireland semi-final and then the final -- and, hey presto, start the massive celebrations.
If only it was that easy.
There are five major challenges confronting Dublin manager Anthony Daly (right) and his players as get ready to open their season with a Walsh Cup match against UCD on Sunday at Parnell Park.
1) THE DIVISION 1A STRUCTURE
Six teams populate this division -- all of them hunks of prime beef battling for grazing space in a very small pasture.
All-Ireland champions Clare; a proud Kilkenny outfit hungry to atone for a disappointing 2013; ditto Galway and Tipperary; a Waterford team with new manager Derek McGrath looking to lay down some markers and the promoted Dubs.
Nothing easy in that group for any of the teams in any of the matches, which start for Dublin with an away trip to Galway on February 16.
For supporters of the Dubs and the Tribesmen, it's a cracking start to the league, but for the respective managers and players, it's a game which requires a serious focus and performance level.
A good start and points in the bag would be a bonus, so expect Dublin and Galway to go at it hammer and tongs.
Over the course of five Division 1A League matches a side can generate some serious momentum that will stand them in good stead for the championship. Dublin, like all counties in that division, will hope to hit the ground running and stay with the pace from the start.
2) EXPECTATIONS FROM INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE CAMP
The upward trend of the progress graph over the last few years has brought Dublin to the brink of ultimate fulfilment.
National League winners in 2011, Leinster champions in 2013, All-Ireland semi-finalists in 2011 and 2013 -- the Dubs are knocking on heaven's door, but need to keep banging away until it opens.
Confidence rightly runs deep through the management team and the players, but they don't want to fall prey to tensions from their own fans and media expectations.
3) THE WAIT FOR CHAMPIONSHIP ACTION
Tricky. Very tricky. It would be sadly ironic if Dublin suffer from their own success in annexing the Leinster championship last year after a gap of 52 years.
Their 'prize' is direct entry to the Leinster semi-finals, which means no championship fare until June 14.
Should Dublin get no further in the league than the quarter-finals (top 4 1A v top 4 1B), they would then finish their early-season competitive fare on March 30.
It's a worst case scenario, but if it does happen, Dublin would have an 11-week wait before their Leinster semi-final. Should the dubs reach the league semi-finals, they would have an eight-week wait and if they qualify for the league final, there are six weeks from the May 4 final date to June 14.
Meanwhile, whichever team they play on June 14 will have a minimum of one championship match played before facing the Dubs. Dublin's opposition will be the winners of Wexford v the winners of the qualifier group consisting of Laois, Antrim, Westmeath, Carlow and London.
That qualifier group play a round robin series to determine who goes through to play Wexford.
4) BEING TUNED UP FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP OPENER
There's nothing like a relatively handy start to the championship. In fact, that was most people's view of Dublin's trip to Wexford for their first outing of 2013, but that nearly went pear-shaped, and Dublin only narrowly avoided defeat.
They redressed the balance in the replay and, from there, launched a spectacular campaign that included beating All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in a replay. This time, be it Wexford or whoever comes through the qualifier group and the Wexford game, Dublin's opponents will be tuned in to championship level.
Dublin can't afford to be sluggish or tentative in any way for that game.
5) BEING THE TARGET
Kilkenny know how good Dublin can be -- so do Cork. Clare will find out in the league.
There is no chance that Daly's Dubs can hide in the long grass and take anyone by surprise.
They have earned their right to be considered a top team and they are a prized scalp for any opposition. Daly, for one, is all too aware of the challenges in an increasingly competitive and exciting hurling scene.
"There's great enthusiasm and a great drive among the lads. They are mad keen to get going," said Daly. "I know what you're saying about the time we could be waiting to play championship, but it's a matter of handling it.
"It can be awkward all right, but we won't be getting too far ahead of ourselves. It's a massively open championship. You'll certainly have the likes of Clare being strong contenders.
"The two provincial winners, ourselves and Limerick are there, and without a doubt we'll have Kilkenny and Tipperary and Galway coming back strong.
"Waterford are regrouping and Cork came so close this year that they will be right up there as well this time around.
"Wexford will look at how they went and say, 'hang on a minute lads, we drew with the Leinster champions and we drew with the All-Ireland champions. How far away can we be if we get a bit of belief?'
"So, there's no way we can get too far ahead of ourselves. The draw was the draw. Last year everyone told us we had the draw from hell and we won Leinster.
"Galway were told they had a handy run definitely to the All Ireland quarter-finals, and possibly the semi-finals, and we know Galway's year went the other way.
"Look, it's a mad sport in a mad sporting world, and you just don't know what will happen. The only thing that you can definitely take care of is your preparation and your mindset.
"We'll be working very hard to make sure our preparation gets us ready for the league and for the championship after that. Hopefully, we'll then go out and perform, but you have no guarantees."