Writing off Dubs a big mistake: Duignan
AS with the Cork hurlers, an awful lot of people have been prematurely writing off Anthony Daly's Dublin this season.
But ahead of the Dubs' Leinster SHC quarter-final against Laois tomorrow, one astute observer who knows both managers quite well warns against repeating that error.
Former Offaly All Star (1998) Michael Duignan is as shrewd a hurling analyst as there is in the country, spotting switches, reading tactics and predicting moves with almost telepathic accuracy as RTE television's top co-commentator.
And the ex-St Rynagh's star reckons that being written off may suit the Dubs and 'Dalo' perfectly.
"If you manage any Dublin team, hurling or football, senior or minor, there is always a ridiculous amount of hype around, but the hurlers are coming into this summer completely under the radar and that should suit Daly," said Duignan. "There was an awful lot of talk around them last year, rightfully so based on their good league run, and I think he handled all of that really well."
In the legendary Clare man's first season in charge, the Dubs reached the Leinster final where only two goals separated them from Kilkenny, and the only real blip on their season was a disappointing performance in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, where some late lapses of concentration cost them against Limerick.
A less stellar 2010 league campaign, followed by a heavy challenge match defeat by Tipperary, has now left some muttering about the Dubs going backwards and falling prey to 'second-season syndrome'.
But Duignan doesn't quite buy that.
"Okay, they didn't have a great league. They started off with that very bad beating by Waterford, but overall it wasn't that bad and there was actually only a few points in it in a few of their games," he said.
Dublin's league form was certainly a bit stop-start but, as Duignan points out, they finished the campaign strongly.
Their first three games were mixed: a heavy loss in Walsh Park, a nine-point victory over Tipperary and then a defeat to Offaly.
But Dublin then only lost to Kilkenny, Cork and Galway by margins of four, three and two points respectively and then wrapped things up with a 31-point trouncing of Limerick.
The fact that the latter was a relegation battle only added ammunition to the nay-sayers but Duignan feels people are rushing to judge Dublin far too quickly.
"They did so well last year that there were always going to be some downs this season," he said. "They're a young team; Anthony has had to build up their hurling and their self-belief and that takes time, three years at least, so he's still in that process.
"The one thing you'd worry about is that they did concede a lot of goals (12) in the league. But this is the championship and I'd expect them to have worked on that and tightened up a lot since.
"People heard about that big loss to Tipperary after the league. I believe they beat Clare in a challenge last week, but, really, until we see them in action this weekend, we really don't know where they stand."
Yet Duignan still fancies Dublin to win tomorrow, even though he is an equally big admirer of Laois manager Niall Rigney and was at their first-round defeat of Carlow.
"That was a tough game for Laois because they had all the pressure of being favourites," he said. "Carlow came with a definite game-plan. They played a seventh defender for the whole game and it wasn't until the first 15 minutes of the second half that Laois upped it.
"Like that match, there'll be a lot of mind-games with this one. Despite their success last year, Laois traditionally wouldn't fear Dublin and have absolutely nothing to lose here."
Duignan won two All-Irelands with Offaly before he retired in 2001. After a lengthy spell living in Naas, he moved back to Offaly (Tullamore) over six years ago and is still deeply involved, coaching adults and juveniles along with another Faithful great Pat Cleary, at the Ballinamere-Durrow club.
So he is well tuned in to the ebb and flow of Leinster hurling trends -- "don't write Offaly off yet!" he stressed -- and particularly appreciates the passion that Daly and Rigney are bringing to it.
"There are probably no two managers in the country as passionate about hurling as the pair of them," he said. "It is great to see guys who gave so much to the game as players still so committed to it and passing it on.
"Daly obviously believes in Dublin: he wouldn't be driving up and down the road if he didn't, and there is also an awful lot of resources gone into Dublin hurling which, you'd feel, will definitely pay off at some stage.
"But Laois are definitely on the up again with Niall in charge. He's got them really pulling together again and they certainly won't let them (Dublin) have it all their own way.
"But they will need to improve a lot from the Carlow game if they're going to handle Dublin's speed and mobility."