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o'grady: send best men to front

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Dublin's Conal Keaney in action against Wexford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Conal Keaney in action against Wexford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Conal Keaney in action against Wexford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

LAST Saturday night, for the first time this season, both Liam Rushe and Conal Keaney took up simultaneous positions in the Dublin half-back line. For next Saturday's Parnell Park rematch with Wexford, Michael O'Grady would have neither there.

The former Sky Blue manager is not advocating the unthinkable – axing Dublin's two most celebrated hurlers for this Leinster SHC quarter-final replay. But he would move them in a heartbeat.

Many pundits have called on Anthony Daly to switch one of his dynamic duo to old forward haunts but O'Grady (pictured below) would go even further.

"Let's be honest, the match was lost up front," he says, an understandable summation of an error-strewn match that was actually drawn.

"Five points from play from six forwards, and three from Danny Sutcliffe – so two points from the other five forwards is not on.

"I feel we need to push both Liam Rushe and Conal Keaney back into the forwards again. We need bigger, stronger men in the forwards. Wexford pushed the lads off the ball."

"Location, location, location" is a familiar mantra for recession-hit estate agents but it has also become a burning issue for the Dublin hurlers, whose own plummeting stock over the past 18 months was summed up by last Saturday's stalemate.

Specifically, Daly needs to get his best players in the places where they can maximise their sphere of influence.

In Wexford Park, Rushe was wearing No 6, Keaney No 14 and Joey Boland No 9 but none started in positions that tallied with their jerseys. Instead Rush was at wing-back, flanking Keaney at centre-back, with Boland parachuted into a new centre-forward role.

This is hardly a new or even Dublin invention (consider Wexford's world record for the ultimate dummy team). But while the half-backs dominated possession, in the first half especially, the musical chairs attracted plenty of post-match criticism from Daly's old boss-turned-RTé pundit, Ger Loughnane.

Rushe had started six NHL outings at centre-back but none at No 5. Keaney featured at centre-back against Carlow and moved there mid-game on some other occasions, but otherwise spent his spring at wing-forward. Boland, Dublin's erstwhile No 6, had played six league games in a new midfield home – and none on the '40'.

Meanwhile, Johnny McCaffrey played the bulk of his league at centre-forward but, come the first round of summer, was restored to midfield.

When the Herald contacted O'Grady yesterday, the Friends of Dublin Hurling chairman was putting the final touches to an article for the FODH website, under the headline 'Still Hasn't Found What He's Looking For'.

Formula

Suffice to say, the he in question is the front man for Dublin hurling, not U2, and the Holy Grail is that elusive formula for Anthony Daly's best 15.

"I think moving players around is affecting team morale," he claims. "In fairness they started brilliantly last Saturday, looked to be cock-a-hoop and probably should have got a goal in the first minute, a blatant foul on the full-forward."

He wonders if complacency fuelled by early dominance was a factor (a similar fade-out happened against Limerick last March) but spies bigger structural issues – specifically a dearth of ball-winning forwards. His twin solution? Keaney and Rushe.

"I know he (Rushe) loves playing at half-back but he is best for the team in the forwards, because he's a very strong man. And Keaney has a great eye for the goal.

"I was saying last Saturday, if Liam Rushe was full-forward he would have got a bucket of possession ... I feel he is almost wasted in the half-backs because we have a whole plethora of half-backs: Joey Boland, Johnny McCaffrey, Shane Durkin, Simon Lambert, Stephen Hiney, Michael Carton, even Peter Kelly."

If, for example, Rushe were at No 14 and Keaney at centre-forward, that would solve the riddle of who to play at No 11. McCaffrey's extended league audition didn't bear fruit; cue Boland's relocation gamble, with the added responsibility of freetaker.

Says O'Grady: "Johnny McCaffrey, in fairness, has never been a forward in his life; he was always a serious centre-back or wing-back. For the good of the team he went up to No 11, which is the hardest shirt to fill on any county team. He had a very mediocre campaign in the league, because he is not a No 11 and I feel it affected his confidence."

As for Saturday, he is confident Dublin will prevail on the premise that "normally the team that gets the second chance and didn't deserve it comes out and wins the next day".

But the scope for improvement is massive. Highlighting the contrast with his own native county, O'Grady recalls: "Dublin beat Limerick two months ago in the league final. Now we saw Limerick last Sunday and you saw Dublin last Saturday; they were poles apart in everything. The Limerick passion and strength on the ball – our lads don't seem to have that at the moment.

Undone

"I know they are trying so hard – maybe too hard.

"Nothing is left undone by Daly and his team. But sometimes you can do too much and it stops at the dressing room.

"At the moment it's not transferring to the pitch."

Despite promotion, he maintains: "They had a very lacklustre league campaign, playing poor hurling, struggling to win matches they would have won, two years ago, in the first 10 minutes.

"They haven't been playing with that zest of two years ago. It's just something small and I feel it could be a goal early on next Saturday – or the right formation – that will make the difference."


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