Rushe refocus eases pain of Cats mauling
THERE has been little time for reflection since Dublin and Liam Rushe hit their first significant speed bump of 2011.
Defeat to Kilkenny in the Leinster final was the first backward step they had taken all year. And with the St Pat's, Palmerstown man hoping to skipper the county's U-21s to a second successive Leinster title against Wexford tomorrow night and the small matter of Limerick in an All-Ireland quarter-final on the horizon, Rushe and the other U-21s on Anthony Daly's senior panel (Daire Plunkett, Martin Quilty and Danny Sutcliffe) have been forced to refocus quickly.
"People ask you is it a challenge to turn around but I welcome it really. It doesn't give you a chance to dwell on the defeat," Rushe said. "You have got to get your body back in shape and get over the loss and focus on this U-21 championship. And that's what we've been doing."
Rushe admitted it might have been a "bridge too far" to expect to beat the Cats without a number of key players but also insisted Dublin simply weren't up to the task on the day regardless of who was available.
"We've played and won matches all year without players and we wouldn't use it as an excuse. Maybe it was a bit of a bridge too far when we lost our full-back and centre-back after 10 minutes and they got some household names back. But it's not an excuse. We know ourselves we didn't perform on the day."
And so for the second time in three seasons Dublin and Limerick meet in an All-Ireland quarter-final. In 2009, the Treaty men exposed Dublin's lack of experience in Daly's first year in charge, when some bad Dublin wides allowed Limerick stay in touch before they took the lead for the first time in the 60th minute, eventually winning by four points.
"That really hurt," Rushe said. "It was such a disappointment. It was a massive opportunity."
Dublin's championship exit at the hands of Antrim last year was even more galling but there have been some key acquisitions since in Conal Keaney and Ryan O'Dwyer and a first league title since 1939 has been won.
Limerick have been to hell and back with last year's fallout from the players' strike. A 31-point defeat to Dublin was among their darkest of days but Donal O'Grady's mark is already all over the Treaty men and in Declan Hannon and Kevin Downes they have unearthed two of the game's brightest young talents.
They have been further boosted by the decision of dual stars Stephen Lucey and Mark O'Riordan to throw their lot in with the hurlers, and an appearance in an All-Ireland semi-final in a season that began in Division 2 would heighten the clamour for O'Grady to remain in situ for at least another 12 months.
"They have been one of the stories of the summer," Rushe agreed. "Last year we beat them by 30-odd points in the league. It's a massive turnaround. He has the players back, they are all singing off the same hymn sheet and he has clearly stamped his brand of hurling on them. It's going to be something different. We haven't played a style like that all year and we have to have our heads screwed on."