All-Ireland junior triumph left us hungry for senior glory – Daly
OF all the new faces among the Dublin footballers, perhaps Darren Daly is the most surprising.
The prodigious talents of Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey have been mixed with the all-conquering 2011 side to produce Jim Gavin's Dublin. But Daly (right) was neither an All-Ireland winner nor new blood.
Daly first came to prominence in 2008 when a team containing a host of the players that would win Sam Maguire in 2011 secured the All-Ireland junior title. Mick Fitzsimons, Denis Bastick and Eoghan O'Gara all helped Dublin end a 16-year wait for Sam and, under Gavin, Daly and Johnny Cooper have also joined the Dubs. Another member of that side, Colin Daly, is part of the London team that will contest the Connacht SFC final with Mayo.
"I knew the potential in that team," Daly said. "I think we just got a good year that year. My own club Fingal Ravens got to an All-Ireland intermediate final at the time. It was a good time.
"It was junior football, and we were just pushing on to senior football. We had a good few lads – Mick Fitz, Johnny Cooper, Denis Bastick, Eoghan O'Gara. We knew their potential. I think we got lucky that year that lads were 'legit' to play and we convincingly won an All-Ireland because of it.
"There was definitely going to be a transition for a lot of the lads.
"It was huge for me. It was one of the most enjoyable years I ever had in football. The confidence thing... it was great. We got to play in Croke Park. We played Meath in a Leinster semi-final in Croke Park in a curtain-raiser for Dublin. It was great to get out there.
"It was definitely a stepping stone and great for lads' confidence. Just a perfect feeder to come into the senior set-up. Every lad on that team... I think their ultimate goal was to try and get into the senior team. It was always in the back of my head."
Out in north County Dublin, Daly is right on the Meath border and aware of what type of game to expect. "It's a one-on-one battle and I have to try and come out on top. It's the same with any player I mark. You try and win your individual battles," he said.
Since that junior title, Daly has been in and out of the Dublin set-up. He was within touching distance a few times but ultimately wasn't part of the 2011 side.
But, along with the likes of Paddy Andrews, Daly has been reborn under Gavin and, having been a regular in the league, he made his championship debut in the win over Westmeath.
"Every game I was just getting more confident. That's the great thing with Dublin, we have a great overall squad creating that competition in training," he said.
"Our games are tough and you know you're going to be marking cracking players.
"There's no point having it easy in training and coming out and getting hammered in a championship game. It's great for us to have six or 10 quality forwards because everyone's going to be tested at training."