Wednesday 22 November 2017

Brendan Cummins: Toxic cloud hangs over Dublin as vultures circle

Sean Moran of Dublin is shouldered out over the sideline by Cathal Mannion. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Sean Moran of Dublin is shouldered out over the sideline by Cathal Mannion. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

When I scanned through the Dublin team for yesterday's match with Galway, it struck me that only two players who lined out against Tipperary in the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final were named to start.

The survivors were Ryan O'Dwyer and Liam Rushe.

No team can survive that rate of flux in such a short period of time. Transition, evolution, call it what you want, must happen much more slowly but there's a toxic cloud hanging over the Dublin hurling panel at the moment.

Even before a ball was thrown in, the vultures were circling over manager Ger Cunningham.

I read the piece during the week about the alternative starting 15 that could have lined out against Galway: a mix of guys who decided not to make themselves available, or were deemed surplus to requirements or simply past it.

But, and this has to be said, if you had the Schutte brothers (Paul and Mark), in there along with Danny Sutcliffe and Daire Plunkett yesterday, Dublin would have been competitive. These guys should now be the leaders but instead, they're watching on from the stands.

It's obvious that some players don't want to play for Cunningham, and that takes me back to my own experience with Tipperary in 2003, when Michael Doyle was in charge.

Michael took over from Nicky English, who was held in an esteem similar to Cunningham's Dublin predecessor, Anthony Daly.

Michael was behind the 8-ball from the start and while everybody decided to play for him in 2003, not everybody turned up.

Our season ended with a 12-point trimming against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final but we had our excuses - it was obvious that the group felt the manager wasn't Nicky, and didn't believe in him.

I remember one of the lads saying to me, as we ran around Semple Stadium one night, 'if we lose on Sunday, the manager will be gone but we'll all be here again next year.' It was said in jest, but no truer words were spoken.

So where does the Dublin problem lie? While we don't have all of the facts, it's clear to see that there's wrong on both sides.

The job for a manager is to put a structure around different personalities and create an environment in which they can perform at their peak.

Some do it better than others. The benchmark is Brian Cody.

While the school of thought is that he rules with an iron fist, he most definitely possesses man-management skills. Year on year, Kilkenny players go out on the pitch and perform as if they'd die for him.

The player's responsibility is to give selflessly to the cause. His team-mates are the most important people in his life. The feeling of family and brotherhood is created by players, a togetherness and bond that should never be broken.

That is why I cannot understand how the Dublin players who have left the panel can sit and watch the likes of Eamonn Dillon and young Donal Burke going out there and busting a gut, without feeling some sense of guilt.

They're just two of the lads who decided to remain inside the tent but their chances of long-term success are diminished greatly by those who didn't.

If I was a Dublin player refusing to play, I'd be thinking to myself, 'I let those boys down, I didn't go into the trenches with them'.

I remember slipping into a bitching session after one of our Championship games, moaning about team-mates and management to a wise lady of Tipperary hurling. Her reply was: "Remember that you always have to find the good in people."

I think that Cunningham and the Dublin players who've decided not to wear the Sky Blue shirt would do well to heed that advice.

Moreover, isn't is sad to think that, last night and this morning, there are Dublin people happy with how things panned out in Tullamore yesterday?

Dublin are now staring down the barrel of an early qualifier exit, and that's no fault of the players who gave it everything against Galway yesterday. I watched them, and it was clear that they really were trying, but the problem is that the quality players required to win matches are sitting at home watching on TV.

While there must be accountability on all sides, Cunningham must face the reality that he's the man who has overseen the change in personnel since taking over from Daly.

Still, the players who aren't playing, but could be, have taken the easy option.

If they'd stayed, their presences and willingness to commit would have made things a whole lot better.

Dublin were never in yesterday's game. While Cian O'Callaghan's second yellow card was harsh, Dublin as a unit were only coping. And when you're only coping, you're not winning.

Galway did what they had to but they'll have no real test, based on form, until they play Kilkenny or Wexford in the Leinster final on July 2.

That's because their semi-final opponents are Offaly, who limped past Westmeath, the runners-up from the round-robin series.

Wexford had their expected victory over Laois. Eamonn Kelly has done a great job with Laois since taking over. They won all their matches in the round-robin, against teams of their own standard, and avoided relegation. That's progress from last year, and they came up against a Wexford team further down the road.

For Wexford, this was an ideal dress rehearsal of what life will be like without Davy Fitzgerald on the touchline when they face Kilkenny. The logistics of how yesterday panned out will have provided valuable information and he'll have learned a lot.

There was only one question that Wexford needed answering yesterday - how do we prepare to play a match without our manager?

Question answered - now they move on to the serious business.

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