Monday 20 November 2017

'Drive on' time for Dubs small-ball revolution

YOU only have to visit the busy 'Friends of Dublin Hurling' (FOHD) website to get some idea of the massive momentum generated by the county's hurling renaissance in the past decade.

The product of county player and web designer Kevin Flynn, it is a slick interactive fanzine that includes news, views and video clips, sells membership of FOHD for €20 a pop and offers free downloadable desktop wallpapers, including one featuring county senior boss Anthony Daly in a Che Guevara pose.

The Dubs' small-ball revolution started long before Daly's arrival two years ago, way back with their first U-14 regional development squads in the '90s.

It has already borne fruit at Leinster minor and U-21 levels but there is still an awful lot riding on their Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland U-21 semi-final against Galway today.


Earlier this summer the Dubs pulled off a massive coup when beating a heavily fancied Kilkenny in the Leinster U-21 semi-final and the vanquished Cats manager, former county star Michael Walsh, didn't sugar-coat it when he went in to congratulate them afterwards.

"I told them people would forget they beat Kilkenny if they didn't drive on, win Leinster and go the whole way to the All-Ireland U-21 final," Walsh revealed. His words have proved particularly prophetic.

With the county's other inter-county tents now folded -- the seniors' loss to Antrim was a particularly painful blow -- all of the capital's hurling hopes now rest on the U-21s, who include experienced county seniors like Liam Rushe, Oisin Gough, David Treacy and Peter Kelly.

For all the progress made at underage level recently, Dublin still have only one All-Ireland final appearance -- the 2007 U-21 decider -- to show for it. And in that they were trounced (5-11 to 0-12) by today's opponents.

While preparing to meet Dublin, Walsh noticed a statistic that made him particularly wary.

Dublin were chasing what would their eighth Leinster U-21 final in the last 10 years.

His own side were red-hot favourites after beating Offaly 2-31 to 0-8 and he certainly had no quibbles after their six-point loss: "Dublin had lots of the minor team that beat Kilkenny in 2007 and were better than us again, no question."

Yet after ousting the Cats in their own back yard and going on to beat Wexford in the final, this year's provincial U-21 victory was only Dublin's second from those eight finals.

Many of their current seniors were also involved in a great run in the Leinster minor grade in the Noughties, when they contested three of four minor finals from 2004 to 2007 and won titles in 2005 and '07.

Yet their last All-Ireland minor final appearance still remains the one involving 'Big Quinny' back in 1983 and their last minor victory was way back in 1965. From their three previous recent Leinster titles, Dublin only won one All-Ireland semi-final.

As Walsh said: "For Dublin to push on now they really need to be reaching All-Ireland finals -- that's why this game is such a big one for them."

He's among those who sympathise deeply with what has happened them in the build-up.

Not only does this weekend's senior football semi-final between Dublin and Cork rob the U-21 hurlers of centre-back star Rory O'Carroll, they've also since lost their two best scorers to serious injuries.

David Treacy and free-taker Shane Stapleton both fell prey to cruciate injuries inside one week, which means the free-taking duties now fall to Niall McMorrow.

Losing three key players is a terrible blow to Richie Stakelum's team, who face a county who are equally determined for U-21 success to make up for their seniors' heartbreaking demise to Tipp.

"You'd really feel for Dublin because those three players were all brilliant against us," Walsh said.

"It is a serious blow but they can either put their heads in the sand now or get on with it and I'd say they will be up for the challenge."

Irish Independent

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