Monday 16 September 2019

Cyril Farrell: Exiting Leinster Championship would be disastrous for Dublin hurling

Gilroy's men need to control fear of losing provincial status to give themselves best chance of achieving it

'Gilroy knew how hard the task of reinvigorating Dublin would be and needs to be given time to work on it. ' Photo: Sportsfile
'Gilroy knew how hard the task of reinvigorating Dublin would be and needs to be given time to work on it. ' Photo: Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

Four years ago, Dublin began the championship as defending Leinster champions, having travelled the toughest possible route in 2013 when they beat Wexford, Kilkenny and Galway.

Tomorrow, they start out amid fears that they won't even be playing in next year's Leinster Championship.

The bottom team at the end of the round robin games drops out and with Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford fancied to fill the top three places, it looks like a battle between Dublin and Offaly to avoid relegation. I just cannot see how the Leinster Championship - or indeed hurling in general - will benefit from losing any of the above five. Maybe I'm missing something but if, as expected, Leinster loses Dublin or Offaly, are we to believe that their championship will be better next year? No, it won't.

And in another daft twist, if Antrim win the Joe McDonagh Cup, only three Leinster counties will be allowed in their own championship next season.

Having been on such a high in the 2011-'13 period when they won an Allianz League and a Leinster title, it would be seriously damaging for Dublin if they are forced out of the Leinster Championship.

However, they need to be careful not to let that into their thinking over the coming weeks as they have enough to concentrate on without allowing fear to accompany them into each of the four Leinster games.

Dublin's decline is not as much of a surprise as some would have you believe, although they have dropped further than expected.

The supply lines weren't as productive as appearances suggested for a period and they are paying the price now.

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However, once the upswing comes, I would fancy them to make rapid progress again.

The standard of Dublin hurlers on the third-level colleges scene has been very high for the last year or two and - from what I hear - it's hurling first with them.

The loss to football of players like Ciarán Kilkenny, Cormac Costello and Eric Lowndes was a big blow to the Dublin hurlers and that was before Con O'Callaghan came along. Imagine what Pat Gilroy would give to have them on his panel now. Still, he has to play the hand he's dealt and while it has been short of aces recently, there's more to the squad than results suggested.

Their opening 15 minutes against Tipperary in the league quarter-final was as good as we've seen from anyone this year but, on the downside, their subsequent cave-in was alarming. It didn't say much for their mental resolve, but I'm sure that Gilroy and Anthony Cunningham will have worked hard on that over recent weeks.

Gilroy knew how hard the task of reinvigorating Dublin would be and needs to be given time to work on it. Bringing in Cunningham was a smart move and while the start has been slow, there was never going to be a quick fix. Few expect Dublin to trouble Kilkenny tomorrow but it might not be that straight-forward.

Dublin will be much stronger than they were in the league and should be greatly encouraged by how close Offaly ran Kilkenny in the league quarter-final.

Offaly got in their faces, worked at a rate that made life difficult for Kilkenny and while they came up short in the end, their performance was enough to leave them satisfied that progress had been made during the league. Now, if Dublin can combine even some of the excellence they displayed against Tipperary with the work rate Offaly applied against Kilkenny, then they have a decent chance of remaining competitive tomorrow.

I don't expect them to win but if they deliver a good performance, it will set them up nicely for the next two games against Wexford and Offaly, which will be crucial to their prospects of retaining Leinster Championship status.

Galway will also have noted how Offaly stretched Kilkenny to the limit which, when coupled with their own mediocre campaign, increases the apprehension levels as they head for Tullamore this evening.

For Galway, this year was always going to be about retaining the All-Ireland title so too much should not be read into their league performances.

Most of them were no better than average, but they are in the past and it's from now on they will begin to be judged.

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