THE Dublin hurlers are making an earlier-than-expected return to Croke Park after this weekend's Walsh Cup final was last night confirmed for GAA headquarters.
The showdown with Kilkenny will take place at 5pm on Saturday, as a curtain-raiser to the Allianz Football League opener between Dublin and Kerry (throw-in 7.0).
The Sky Blues and Cats secured qualification via victories yesterday over Wexford and Galway respectively, with the final originally pencilled in for Parnell Park on Sunday afternoon.
However, Dublin GAA chiefs immediately spotted the PR value of a hurling and football double-header on Saturday evening, and the Leinster Council was happy to go along on the proviso that both Kilkenny and Croke Park were in agreement too.
That was duly forthcoming, and newly installed Leinster chairman John Horan of Dublin last night gave the go-ahead for the switch.
Given that the Walsh Cup (along with the O'Byrne Cup) has a fundraising function for players who have hit times, there is the unresolved question of next weekend's 'gate' and what percentage may go to the Leinster Council. The issue is due to be thrashed out later this week, with provincial secretary Michael Delaney confirming: "That will be something between Leinster and Croke Park."
Dublin manager Anthony Daly anticipates several selection headaches ahead of the final.
"We've a lot of options. We had a few left off today who will be available and there'll be a bit of picking in it," the Dublin manager admitted.
"Dotsy (David O'Callaghan) will be okay. He just twinged a hamstring on Tuesday (against UCD), we took him off at half-time. He's fine.
"He did a running session in Dublin today. Mikey Carton should be available, Johnny McCaffrey and Stephen Hiney too. McCrabber (Alan McCrabbe) won't be ready for next week, but he's pushing near to it. There's a few more... we need to look at a few fellas."
Even in defeat, Wexford counterpart Liam Dunne was happy with yesterday's workout. "We were down a man with about 15 minutes to go and we lost by a point, so we got as much out of the Walsh Cup as we wanted really," he said.
With Kilkenny through to the final, Dunne even speculated that maybe it was no bad thing to be gone from the Walsh Cup.
"Now, we can knuckle down and get ourselves ready for the National League," he continued.
"The good thing for the players is they're not happy enough to be just competing with the likes of Dublin – they want to be beating them. And we're not too far off of that."