Friday 23 June 2017

Keaney insists hurlers can bag All-Ireland title

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Conal Keaney oozes fitness, strength and power as he enters the room with an easy grace.

It's talking time in midweek, there's a job to be done and the subject matter illustrates how far Dublin hurling has come in terms of what Ireland's soccer manager Giovanni Trapattoni calls, in his inimitable fashion, "the mentality."

Keaney was launching the 10th Musgrave Triathlon, which will be held on September 3 in Farran Woods, Cork.

This event has raised €2.9m for cancer charities and Our Lady's Children's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin over the last nine years.

"Will you be taking part in the triathlon yourself, Conal?" is the first question.

Although he looks as if he could start running, dive into the water for the swimming section and cycle like a dervish right now, never mind in the autumn, it's a "no."

"It's on September 3. I hope we're still involved in the championship at that stage," he says.

Right there is the attitude that Anthony Daly has bred into the Dublin hurling squad. Ambition tempered by realism. Real hope instead of idle daydreams.

Keaney knows that Offaly on Sunday present a potential banana skin if the Dubs are complacent or careless, but he's not scared of talking about the Liam MacCarthy Cup and Dublin in the same breath.

The footballers have been the central GAA story in the city for a long time, and the hype ramped up a notch since they reached the All-Ireland semi-final last year and only lost to Cork by a point.

Now, with a National League title safely under wraps, Keaney (below) says of the hurlers: "I think we have as a good a chance of winning the All-Ireland as the footballers.

"The difference is we have a national title. They've won a couple of Leinsters, but we'll be in the same boat in a couple of years' time."

A renowned dual player, the Ballyboden St Enda's club man had his last full-time stint with the hurlers in 2003. The following year he played both codes, and in 2005 stayed exclusively with the footballers.

"At the time it was just a natural call because the hurling set-up mightn't have been the best. Lads weren't committed.

"I remember turning up to training and there were only four or five there. I'd go to football training the following night and there'd be 35 lads there, so I think anyone would have made the decision at the time.

"It wasn't anything against the hurling -- I just wanted to push myself at the highest level and that's the way it was at the time.

"It's totally changed now because both set-ups are exactly the same. It's great for any young lad coming through now because they can make their choice on a level playing field," says Keaney.

Last year, a number of factors combined to persuade him move back to the small ball game, not the least of them, former All-Ireland SHC winner Daly.

"There were four or five things that made my decision. I wanted to give hurling a go. I met with Anthony and you'd do anything for him -- when he starts talking about hurling he's so passionate.

"He's a great fella and he has given me as much as I need to try and get my game where it should be. It wasn't any one thing, it was a few things. Nothing is forever and I said I'd give it a go this year," he says.

Dublin, Daly, and the players have given it everything this season so far, including regular 6.0am training sessions and huge work put into strength and mobility. "When I was with the hurlers last time, the game was a lot to do with skill. Your skill would be a huge part of it and help you to get away from anything.

"Now skill is only one factor -- it's all about pace and tackling. You get the ball now and you're getting more hits than I was getting in the football. It's impossible to get away from lads because everyone is so strong. It has moved on hugely.

Hitting

"If you take the All-Ireland between Tipp and Kilkenny last year -- the hitting that was going on. Every team is trying to do that.

"We have obviously taken that on board; we have tried to get our fitness levels up as high as we can and the strength of lads now is huge. The tackling makes a huge difference because when you're trying to get the ball, you're not knocked off it.

"When I was there previously we were all getting knocked off it. Kilkenny were way above everyone, but now we're trying to match all of the top teams and I don't think we're too far away," says Keaney.

The Dubs play at Croke Park with their reputation considerably enhanced, particularly among the Blues fans, but Keaney doesn't want it all to turn out like a damp squib.

"To still be unbeaten in all competitive games is a serious achievement and I don't think it has even happened me with the footballers.

"Things are going well, but it's all about the next day and the next performance. It's very easy for all the hype and everything else to slip away if we don't perform on Sunday.

"When we played them (Offaly) in the league -- it was a tough enough game, but they died in the last 15 minutes due to fitness. They were struggling a bit then, but I'm sure they won't have that problem now.

"It doesn't matter who we're playing -- Tipperary, Offaly or whoever. It's not about them -- if we perform to our potential we'll be there or thereabouts.

"We have good enough lads, even with a few injuries."

Irish Independent

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