Tuesday 24 April 2018

Energy set to rise for Dublin and Wexford Parnell face-off

Place in Walsh Cup final of secondary importance to Pat Gilroy and Davy Fitz as they assess big squads

Dublin manager Pat Gilroy. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Pat Gilroy. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

If nothing really matters in January beyond the stoic homilies of the training ground, Parnell Park tomorrow at least reminds us that some games are still about more than just accumulating winter miles.

Dublin and Wexford's Walsh Cup semi-final probably won't warrant much more than a recited digit on the RTÉ evening news, but it's still a game Pat Gilroy and Davy Fitzgerald will be keen to win.

Leinster's hurling pre-season has been largely a drumming of fingers until now, but this is where the energy sharpens.

Not, it's true, in any monumental way, but at least Donnycarney will resound to something more than the coconut-shy echo of recent weekends.

Gilroy's efforts to put a flintier stamp on Dublin's hurling in the coming season found stark expression this week with the return of a 35-year-old Conal Keaney to the extended training panel.

There was little in the Ballyboden man's club form last year to suggest his inter-county retirement in 2016 had been premature.

But Keaney's return is almost certainly more about communicating a philosophy than digging up an old soldier. He may also be seen as a potential bridge between those who voluntarily exited the panel last year and those they left behind.

Whether he'll see game-time in the summer is, for now, a moot point. But we can be certain that Keaney's dressing-room presence will be hard-nosed and vocal through the coming months as Gilroy seeks to establish a group Constitution that guarantees Dublin bend the knee to no-one.

Bullied

Anthony Daly has likened Keaney and Peter Kelly to the storied leaders of the old Clare dressing-room in which he was captain, alongside men like Colin Lynch, Ollie Baker, Brian Lohan and Seanie McMahon.

"'Are ye going to be bullied like ye were last week?' I'd often ask them," he wrote in his autobiography, 'Dalo'.

"You knew damn well that they wouldn't be. You learn to read guys. You goad the beast. And then you unleash it."

Gilroy's recall of Keaney and Kelly suggests that Dublin's decision to turn to the St Vincent's man after three years of drift and stasis under Ger Cunningham is franked by a desire to make their hurlers, above all, a meaner team.

He has spoken of shoring up defensive fragilities reflected in their concession of a generous 18 goals in their nine league and championship games last season.

To that end, the limiting of Tipperary to just one green flag in last weekend's Thurles challenge will have given his message more traction than the clean sheets kept against Antrim and Meath in the Walsh Cup.

Davy Fitz has calibrated Wexford's preparation a little differently this year, bringing the squad together three weeks later than in his first season because of a suspicion that their energy levels began to taper after contesting the county's first Leinster final since 2008.

He, too, is trawling an extended panel right now and has admitted that Wexford's priority in this Walsh Cup is simply the assessment of squad depth.

Surgery

Arguably Wexford's most exciting find in 2017 was the teenage St Martin's forward Rory O'Connor, outstanding on his championship debut against Waterford in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final.

O'Connor is currently recovering from knee surgery and is not expected to see competitive action again until the latter stages of the league.

Liam Óg McGovern could take even longer as he recovers from a second cruciate operation in 10 months and there have been a number of withdrawals from the squad for an assortment of reasons.

James Breen stepped away having found the juggling of inter-county life with that of a busy farmer too big an ask while Podge Doran and Gary Moore also stepped away, finding it impossible to give the necessary commitment.

The door has been left open for Andrew Kenny to return if he gets his best form back.

Wexford were given a decent work-out by Carlow in their opening Walsh Cup game, but last weekend's 38-point destruction of Wicklow won't have served either team any worthwhile purpose.

It will, thus, be interesting to read the early-season tactical approach of both Gilroy and Davy Fitz tomorrow.

Dublin deployed a sweeper against Tipp last weekend and looked to be frustrating Michael Ryan's men until the Premier County rattled off 12 unanswered second-half points to end the contest.

Still, given these counties meet in the second round of the new round-robin Leinster championship on May 20, there may be an element of shadow-boxing to tomorrow's combat too.

Despite Wexford's first Leinster championship defeat of Kilkenny last year since '04, they are somewhat surprisingly ranked fourth in the betting for this year's provincial championship at 13/2, behind Galway (8/11), Kilkenny (11/4) and, remarkably, Dublin (11/2).

Fitzgerald has already made clear his disdain for those odds, given his team now operate in Division 1A of the league and were the only ones to record a victory over Galway in 2017.

"If I was going by Paddy Power, we probably shouldn't turn up at all," he said last week.

Fanciful

The hope for Dublin is that their Cuala contingent will remain unavailable until St Patrick's Day, after which Gilroy will, no doubt, want the Treacys (David and Sean) and Schuttes (Paul and Mark) quickly back in county colours.

However, suggestions that Con O'Callaghan might commit to a season with the hurlers on the back of his club heroics seem fanciful.

Likewise, any idea of Gilroy managing to persuade his Vincent's club-mate Diarmuid Connolly to a season with the hurlers surely belongs in the realm of make-believe as Dublin's footballers prepare their push for four-in-a-row and their sixth All-Ireland in an astonishing eight seasons.

Jim Gavin will still get whoever Jim Gavin needs.

Tomorrow won't write any defining chapter for either manager but it will shine an early light on how their squads are wintering.

Irish Independent

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