A COUPLE of words of warning from Liam Rushe ahead of Saturday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 semi-final. Somewhat predictably, given the events of last Sunday, the St Pat’s man is finding it hard to get himself fully up for the clash with Antrim in Newry (4.0).
The senior championship exit is still raw with Rushe and, like his team-mates and management, the past few days have been filled with regrets and what-might-have-beens.
Secondly – and perhaps just as predictably – Rushe warns: “If we learned anything last year, it’s write Antrim off at your peril,” in reference to Dublin’s shock senior championship defeat by the Saffrons. “They had a tough game against Armagh in the Ulster final. They will be battle-hardened coming in. They will certainly give us a game of it.” Back to the senior stuff for a second, though. To all neutral observers, Dublin did themselves proud. They hurled with the best of them and never balked at the task in hand. They drove the All-Ireland champions to distraction, were undone by an unlucky early goal and, most likely, the fact that they didn’t find the net themselves.
So for everybody outside Camp Daly, Dublin can look back on last Sunday and, indeed the season, with a mixture of satisfaction and optimism. Then again, nobody outside the four walls of the Dublin dressing room gave Dublin the slightest chance going into the match. Those within believe they were going on to a higher calling. “I suppose you could be relatively happy with the performance, especially considering what everybody else was saying,” Rushe notes. “But we knew we weren’t going to get hammered provided we played somewhere near our potential. Happy enough we did ourselves justice but at the same time, we were close. We were still level with 15 minutes to go. Just a few balls didn’t break our way. A few missed opportunities.”
Much was made of Dublin’s decision to drop Johnny McCaffrey back behind midfield and play for three-quarters of the match with just five forwards. Rushe maintains the tactic worked well and that the Dublin pre-match script was being closely followed. “It was working,” he insisted. “The balls were breaking and the forwards were winning them. I think we got tired. We were a lot more clinical in the first half. Tiredness probably crept in. We started making wrong decisions and dropping balls we worked so hard to get. “Then finally the ball would break and we would snatch at it. There was just six or seven moments ... and even Lar Corbett’s goal. It was just so unfortunate. Moments like that turn games. They just didn’t go our way.”
Dublin’s supposed Achilles’ heel – their lack of goals – is not an issue to which Rushe is particularly predisposed. “We do score goals,” he stated. “We score goals in training. We scored goals in the league. I don’t know. I’d love to see us score more. We created a few chances at the death. “Dotsie (David O’Callaghan) went streaming through once or twice. Liam Ryan did too. We created the chances. In fairness to Tipp, they stayed with us. They didn’t foul us. “They defended very well.” Unlike many of his teammates, Rushe has the ideal opportunity to get back up on the horse immediately.
It seems strange given his prowess and experience but the man currently in line for Young Hurler of the Year is still under-21 and captains Dublin against Antrim on Saturday for a spot in the All-Ireland final. Whatever way you look at it, Antrim represent the path of least resistance of any of the semi-final quartet and how better to get over the pain of missing out on an All-Ireland final spot with a place in another September decider? “I’d prefer this than to be dwelling on the defeat like the rest of the lads were,” he admits. “It’s more difficult than it was after the Leinster final.
“That was just a case of wiping that game out of your mind. “Whereas Tipperary were physically and mentally drained after that. “It is a bit hard to build myself up for this game but it’s just as big as the last one was. Up in Newry and a chance to get into an All-Ireland final. “We’ve lost 10 or 11 starters from last year,” he notes. “But these lads have developed physically and their hurling is top class as well.
“I’m not sure who would win if you get last year’s team to play this year’s ... but I’d play for this year’s.”