Saturday 17 March 2018

Dubs' absentees leave Cunningham in a bind

Goalkeeper Robbie Gillen and Paul O’Dea of DCU in action against Kilkenny’s John Donnelly during their Walsh Cup match in Dunmore. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Goalkeeper Robbie Gillen and Paul O’Dea of DCU in action against Kilkenny’s John Donnelly during their Walsh Cup match in Dunmore. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It was an uncomfortable winter for anyone connected with hurling in Dublin.

An underwhelming summer was followed by the disaffected breaking their silence and speaking out on the tensions that exist within the county.

For manager Ger Cunningham and Co, the New Year probably couldn't come quickly enough.

Perhaps that friction was inevitable given the change in the county of late. The numbers underline the extent of the overhaul the manager has undertaken in his time in charge.

Of the 20 players that helped them win Leinster back in 2013, 12 have moved on. Some jumped, others were pushed.

So far, 2017 hasn't been kind. For Wednesday night's season-opener in the Walsh Cup against Carlow, a total of 23 of Cunningham's squad were unavailable through college duty, injury and Cuala's run in the club championship.

And that they won on the night carries more significance than might first be apparent.

A dozen Dublin players are college-tied and should Cunningham's men make the semi-finals of the competition, he'll have a chance to see the side he's likely to pick for the league opener play together.

"(If) we get to the semi-final or the final - the rules of competition are that the lads who have played with the colleges can come back in and play with us, if they get that far.

"But there won't be too many opportunities (to see his team play together), no."

"It's well documented the amount of players we knew we wouldn't have in this competition. So we've brought fellas in with a view to giving them a bit of training and to try and make the training panel for the league.

"There's good competition there and it's a good competition for the start of the year. It gives us a competitive game."

And while they'll have their college contingent back for the first round league clash with All-Ireland champions Tipperary in Croke Park, the availability of the Cuala contingent is much less clear.

Their decision to agree to a request from Slaughtneil to move their All-Ireland club semi-final clash back by three weeks to February 25 means they'll miss the opening two rounds of the league at least.

And should they win there, it would throw doubt on their availability for the entire regular league season as they are scheduled to face Kilkenny in the final round just nine days after the All-Ireland club final on St Patrick's day.

"From talking to the Cuala lads, they're just looking at the semi-final and they can't look past that," Cunningham said.

"So the chances of having them for the two league matches before the semi-final is unlikely.

"That's been the way always. Players who are still in the club championship play with their clubs. They'll stay with them and focus on that.

"And that's great for Dublin, that Cuala have qualified for an All-Ireland semi-final. They're in the last four of the competition.

"So that's good for them and it's good for Dublin. Yeah, it impacts on us short term but it gives other players an opportunity to put their hand up."


It all means there's likely to be several new faces, including some of last year's Leinster minor-winning side, exposed to league action this spring.

"That's the way it is. Since they won the Leinster Championship, we've been thinking about what we're going to do.

"What's probably disappointing is the players that we don't have (for the Walsh Cup) because of the colleges from the point of view of developing some sort of a team.

"There's obviously guys who are there with the colleges who would be very close to playing in the league who we won't have seen at all."

Does the build-up and likely absentees mean that expectations for Dublin's league campaign need to be recalibrated?

"It depends who's expecting," Cunningham replied. "We've got to look after ourselves. We've got three home games, two in Croke Park. So we would be looking to be as competitive as we can.

"A good run in this competition (the Walsh Cup) would give us a couple of games to get us ready. It's a huge ask to go into Croke Park with a very young squad against Tipperary but that's the challenge and that's what we're building towards."

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