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Vincent Hogan: Daly delivers new dawn for the underdog

Anthony Daly could sense people lose their bearings and begin edging, momentarily, towards the foothills of an extravagant folly.

He wasn't far down the evolutionary journey in Clare when he learnt that tossing wreaths on a stripey grave was about as wise as throwing pebbles at a pit-bull. Dials were spinning in too many heads here.

"If you're writing them off, I'd say you'd be confused," he counselled, jolting to his feet and hurrying from the little auditorium like someone who smelt smoke.

The madness was, maybe, inescapable after a combination of Dublin's first National League crown since the start of the Second World War and Kilkenny's heaviest Croke Park defeat in 21 years.

But people needed debriefing. If Brian Cody had come dancing before us dressed as Liberace, there couldn't have been a more palpable air of incredulity. Imagine a Kilkenny team damned to such marginality, their forwards did not score a single point from play between them?

That's what happened here. It was like watching the cast of Riverdance hitting the stage blind drunk.

Take out TJ Reid's and Paddy Hogan's frees and their sum total over 70 minutes was 1-1. Given the marquee names missing, you'd need a single-digit IQ to decree their condition terminal. But they did look leg-heavy and, on occasion, recklessly contrary.

Still, seismologists will have been alerted to significant plate movement across the hurling landscape.

For Dublin to win, accumulating almost three times the number of Kilkenny's scores, was nothing less than extraordinary. Above all else, Daly has given them attitude. You can pour an ocean of money and good intentions into the game in the city, but you'll still have empty pockets if you don't go to war with a little acid in your game.

Daly's early hurling career was spent sinking on teams that had deference to tradition ingrained in their DNA. In time, he learnt that no one ever won a game on bended knee. If anything, he is an emblem for the downtrodden now.

"The big thing in the dressing-room was to come out and play with a bit of freedom," he told us.

"Not to be getting caught up in the occasion. No one knows it better than me like, going into big days with Clare, and worrying about tickets and parades and 'where will we bring the cup?' and all that rot.

"You know it's all about the 70 minutes and we (Clare) finally realised that I suppose in '95."

It seemed ironic to have Dublin represented at the dais last night by a Clare man and a Tipperary man (Ryan O'Dwyer). For this is a Dublin team unlike any the capital has known. Apart from Niall Corcoran, O'Dwyer and substitute Maurice O'Brien, every other player is a quintessential city boy, thereby representing a largely put-upon community.

The Hill has been slow to acknowledge the existence of hurling as anything other than a clandestine, underworld entertainment. So this was a start, albeit the cries of "easy, easy" suggest they have yet to embrace a few formal courtesies that, maybe, don't apply in football.

O'Dwyer, blood pouring from a busted bottom lip, played court jester to the press afterwards.

The Cashel native hurls with the irreverent edge that all uprisings require. "The very first time we met up, I was absolutely cacking it," he told us in the Queen's English. "I don't usually get nervous, but I was so nervous going out. But every one of them came up to me and introduced themselves to me.

"There were so many names that first night that I didn't remember any of them. That was, when, November or something? Just a get-together to have a meeting."

Daly interjects: "There was no training in November!"

O'Dwyer pulls again without breaking stride. "T'was just a meeting," he stresses. "Our very first training session on the 3rd of January, we met in O'Toole Park. I was so nervous going. Myself and Dotsy O'Callaghan. But there were no egos. Everyone wanted to get to know me. Everyone knew that I wasn't just going to be there to make up the numbers.

"I was there to hopefully make Dublin hurling better. And I have to say I'd do anything for the boys, because they made me feel so welcome. Apart from some of the nicknames ... "

Daly: "And stealing your phone...'

"Stealing my phone end texting him, saying 'You big burger head!' Thank God he knew it was a joke. Had to send a lot of sorry messages anyway."

Daly roped the conversation debate back to more pressing business. Dublin play Offaly on May 29 in Parnell Park. Championship heat will quickly obscure any bunting seen in April.

One of his most disappointing days in a Clare shirt was the '95 League final when Kilkenny did a number on them. Yet, the Banner story flew to such a height that year, they quickly forgot their disappointment.

"Look, there's nothing more dangerous than a stung Offaly man, you needn't tell me about that either from years gone by," he cautioned. "So we've a job of work to keep the focus now, learn the lessons of other Dublin teams that, you know, got caught up in the bit of hype and stuff.

"If we can beat Offaly by a point at the end of May, we'll be thrilled men. But a big day like today is about confidence. We can play at the top level, days like today might help to show us that."

wipeout

He spoke of Kilkenny being down "maybe six marquee players" and how two of them, Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin, could be deemed "the two best players of the last 12 years."

All true, of course. But there were few consolations for Kilkenny here. Their worst Croke Park wipeout since the 1990 Leinster Championship was pock-marked with little outbursts of indiscipline that, through Cody's reign, have been rare.

The Kilkenny manager argued that Eoin Larkin's misdemeanour had been "a pushing motion" and, thereby, not a sending-off offence. He hadn't seen John Dalton's handiwork on Conor McCormack or, probably, Richie Hogan's intemperate swing at Joey Boland.

Still, he knew what he did see. And, for Kilkenny, it wasn't pretty.

"Tells its own story," he said of the scoreline. "We're not going to shrug our shoulders now and say 'Look, we've our two eyes on the Championship.' We had two eyes on today's match and that's it. We came up very very short.

"Did it shock me? No, I'm not shocked. What happened out there happened. No point pretending it was a one-off thing. It's something that we're just going to have to go away and sort out.

"I don't think you can ever write anything off that happens in front of your eyes. I was there, I saw it. You just have to be honest with yourself and it's my responsibility to manage the team. If I wrote this off, I wouldn't be doing the job properly."

A few penal weeks looming in Nowlan Park then. An exercise in dousing down goosebump expectation in the capital. Go figure.

Irish Independent