Friday 23 February 2018

Capital gain needed after exodus from out of Blue


Now into his third season as Dublin hurling boss, Ger Cunningham has overseen the most radical overhaul of any squad in recent years. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Now into his third season as Dublin hurling boss, Ger Cunningham has overseen the most radical overhaul of any squad in recent years. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Anthony Daly vacated his position as the Dublin hurling manager in 2014 there was some acceptance that a fresh face might coax out whatever was left from the core of a team that had delivered a Leinster and league title in a six-year spell at the end of which the Clare man left them in a lot better state than how he had found them.

Daly himself acknowledged how a fresh approach might benefit all, and how good players still remained. Almost three years on though, the team he has left behind is barely recognisable. From 20 players used in their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tipperary that precipitated the departure of Daly just five remain - a staggering fall-off of 75pc.

Rarely has a front line inter-county team like it undergone such an extensive makeover as Ger Cunningham has overseen since coming in ahead of the 2015 season.

By taking the last game of any of hurling's protagonists in 2014 and drawing comparison, it emphasises the pace of change experienced in Dublin.

Kilkenny, for instance, who have watched some of the greatest names to have played the game hang up their hurls, still have 12 of the 19 who featured on All-Ireland final day that year.

Tipperary have also experienced some upheaval, particularly when Michael Ryan came in, but despite those retirements they too still have 11 to call on.

Waterford manager Derek McGrath overhauled his squad at the end of 2014 but still 13 of the 20 used as Wexford ushered them out the door are in or around the squad.

Only Colin Ryan has left Clare in the intervening years though Conor Ryan and Darach Honan will not play in the 2017 championship because of illness and injury.

Even Wexford can still call on double figures from a summer of relative of prosperity, just four from their 20 are no longer connected to the senior squad.

Some of the Dublin departures came with the passing of time, more have been forced. Some have just opted out themselves. Stephen Hiney was gone in late 2014 while Conor McCormack and Alan McCrabbe didn't feature again post-Daly.

In the middle of 2015 Michael Carton walked away, disgruntled at the role laid out for him while arguably the biggest bombshell landed when Danny Sutcliffe withdrew unexpectedly before 2016 preparations had got off the ground but still found the appetite to get involved in the backroom with the U-21 team.

Goalkeeper Alan Nolan was released prior to 2016 while Joey Boland left as the opportunities for him dried up. Colm Cronin followed Sutcliffe in declining to return but still played an important role with Cuala.

Conal Keaney held off until after Ballyboden St Enda's All-Ireland club triumph in March of last year before announcing his retirement.

The off-season gone by was even more attritional to Daly's final selection as the exodus intensified. Shane Durkin and Peter Kelly made themselves unavailable, so too did Paul Ryan, though he may well have been surplus to requirements anyway, Johnny McCaffrey was also released while Niall Corcoran retired.

Only last week, having resisted the opportunity to return after Cuala's All-Ireland club triumph, Mark Schutte linked up with the Dublin footballers for a training session with a view to a more permanent arrangement. Only Liam Rushe, David Treacy, Ryan O'Dwyer, Eamonn Dillon and David O'Callaghan remain three years on from Daly's last stand.

Such a stark change in personnel has prompted some sharp commentary in the direction of Cunningham.

Keaney suggested to RTÉ earlier this year there was a clash of personalities between the manager and Sutcliffe while Michael Carton went a step further in a Newstalk interview last November suggesting the atmosphere was "toxic".

"There was no clarity, people weren't getting on and it just wasn't a nice place to be," the O'Toole's man said.

But Cunningham has had his support too with O'Dwyer most impassioned last August, urging absent players to leave "personal grievances aside".

"Dublin hurling will be there in 20 or 30 years' time, those players won't. Their aim should be to leave it in a better place than when they came in. And some people don't have that attitude," said the former Tipp player.


The league didn't improve their fortunes, however. A brief upturn with a win in Cork after a heavy loss in the opening game against Tipperary was followed by defeat to Kilkenny, Waterford and Clare before they were relegated after a play-off with Clare.

Cunningham can justifiably make the case that many of those who left or retired had clocked up significant mileage anyway and with Dublin winning last year's Leinster U-21 championship there is a pool of young talent being integrated. Players like Chris Crummey, Cian O'Callaghan, Shane Barrett and, more recently, Eoghan O'Donnell and Donal Burke have pushed through in the last three years to really establish themselves.

Ex-Dublin hurling boss Humphrey Kelleher says the change brings obvious risks for this year's championship as they prepare to face the new 7/2 All-Ireland hurling favourites Galway.

"Right or wrongly he has gone for a younger team and we have to accept that. But there are consequences from that. Back in my time I did something similar. I brought in young lads hoping that they would develop but it didn't happen," he said.

"We have to put faith in Ger in some degree as to whether it is the right strategy to adopt."



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