pride in another near miss for daly
Published 15/08/2011 | 05:00
Like tea, sympathy served tepid is maybe best not served at all. Anthony Daly stares out at the world, proud and vexed and palpably empty. Dublin's journey is at an end, everything now tidy in hurling's garden. Chased by expectation, Tipperary overcame a team insulted by ambivalence here. The great preamble is over.
On September 4, trumpets will blare for yet another blueblood final. And, in a single, poetic sentence, Daly synopsises what we've just seen. "Sure look it's hurling, a thousand mad things and someone comes out on top," he sighs. Perfect.
Tipp are still standing, but look ashen. The most physical game all summer has pushed them to the edge of exhaustion. In their canter through Munster, there had been such murder in their movement, it wasn't defenders a team needed against Tipp, but a hand-rail to counter dizziness.
That's how they hurled. They refined the art of goalscoring to something as natural as drawing breath. It became their signature, their personality.
And when, just two minutes in, Lar Corbett flicked home his seventh of this championship, a cold wind seemed to blow down off the Hill. This was what had been prophesied. Dublin outclassed and, ultimately, subjected to our pity.
Driving home from the Waterford-Kilkenny game one week earlier, Daly had listened to the radio with rising anger.
"Some of the stuff ... would make you die," he sighs now. "'Twas a good thing the motorway was wide anyway the way some fellas were giving us no chance at all. You know we're Walsh Cup champions, League champions, there's great pride in the boys.
"The only day we didn't perform this year was in the Leinster final. We were very disappointed that evening and promised ourselves it wouldn't happen again.
"But, look, near misses are hard enough to take being honest with you."
He speaks from experience. In '04, Daly managed a Clare team -- written off as being close to senility -- to take Kilkenny to an All-Ireland quarter-final replay. One year later, the same Clare team just ran out of gas having had their boot on Cork's jugular in an epic semi-final. Between them, those Cork and Kilkenny teams dominated hurling for nine years.
Yet, Daly put something in Clare that almost blew a hole in history.
Then again, that was always his way as a player too. He was the emblem of Clare's uprising in the '90s, a time when he and Declan Ryan would have become acquainted.
Ryan smiles at the memories. That Clare team was never tyrannised by tradition and, under Ger Loughnane, their battles with Tipperary caught a heat that, routinely, turned Pairc Ui Chaoimh into a tinderbox. They were epic and unforgettable games and, through them, Daly was never seen to take a backward step.
"I wouldn't expect anything else from a team prepared by Anthony," says Ryan now of Dublin's fury. "He was a physical player in his own day and I think Dublin showed that, not only are they a physical team, but a very competitive team. They're going to be around for a while I think."
If anything, Corbett's strike seemed to tranquilise Tipp.
"Funnily enough, the early goal can sometimes lead to a bit of extra complacency to a team that maybe was a little bit complacent," Daly explains. "Which would be natural for them the way they were being written up all week."
Behind the veil of his words, you can read an eternity of frustration. For if Dublin had access to men like Stephen Hiney, Tomas Brady, Conal Keaney and David Treacy yesterday, it is hard not to imagine them being at least four points a better team. And that's all Tipp had to protect them at the finish.
As it happened, Dublin's selflessness and intensity created a force-field of attrition that the champions could never quite escape. The system of dropping Johnny McCaffrey back as an extra defender drew Tipp into heavy traffic when everything about them this year has been prairies of open space.
Corbett took Peter Kelly for an imperious 1-3 inside 26 minutes but, thereafter, found himself hitting road-blocks. Eoin Kelly never quite escaped the clutches of Niall Corcoran. And any one of Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan or John O'Brien could have been replaced at half-time, such was the depth of their struggle.
As it happened, Callanan was the one to make way for Brendan Maher, Tipp already on a war footing.
"'Twas very very tough, very physical," Corbett explains. "And it just goes to show. Dublin have had the country writing them off, Tipperary people writing them off. Everyone saying we were going up there for a formality, that we'd be in the final in three weeks' time.
"Everywhere we went, left, right and centre, that's what they were saying. Well, we came up today and got a lesson. We were saying it at half-time, how Dublin won the fight in the first half. We had to ask questions of ourselves at half-time.
"And that was down to the work-rate that Dublin had. It was the most physical challenge that we had all year. They were winning the high ball, they were winning the 50/50s, the breaking ball on the ground. I just think we have to be more physical if we're to have a chance in the final.
"If we put up a performance like that, Kilkenny will have us blown out of the water by half-time."
Maybe the real deficit was in efficiency. Tipp's problem in the first-half was one, above all, of recalibration. Dublin had altered the rules of engagement and, having free-wheeled downhill all year, Tipp now came upon an awkward gradient.
And, to begin with, it was as if they'd encountered the Matterhorn in Kansas.
Yet, Ryan would applaud the character of his team and, when the game was there to be won, the icy free-taking of Kelly proved invaluable. Others like Padraic Maher, Gearoid Ryan and, latterly, Noel McGrath came to the fore too.
"Still, I don't think Kilkenny will be too worried by anything they saw today," Ryan grins, a man armed -- you can tell -- with endless ammunition for the training ground now.
In the end, Dublin pressed a reluctant Liam Rushe to full-forward, hoping to rescue things with a goal. But, on the day Brendan Cummins surpassed Christy Ring's record of championship appearances, Tipp offered a suitably obstinate wall of protection.
So the game just petered out, both teams pale from the stress of it.
"Very disappointed to come so close and not to get there, but proud as well," says Daly, the words like rocks in his mouth. "To a man, they stuck to the task. Maybe we've given everybody a bit of hope. There wasn't that much of a difference, compared to what we were being told anyway.
"There's huge optimism out there for Dublin hurling. But, look, all eggs were in the basket for today."
He sighs and gets to his feet, a man with little interest in the compliments now blowing Dublin's way.