Monday 23 October 2017

Nobody can afford to underestimate Dublin again as Daly builds team of real contenders

Dublin have earned respect by hurling without fear

Jamesie O'Connor

As a player, Anthony Daly wasn't the most skilful hurler on our team. He wasn't particularly good in the air, and he certainly wasn't the fastest. But time and time again, when it mattered most, he delivered big performances for both club and county, especially when the stakes were at their highest.

Nothing ever seemed to faze him, he never betrayed the slightest hint of being nervous before big games, and the greater the challenge, the more he seemed to relish it. There were very few I came across over the course of my playing career who had anything like that level of mental strength, self-belief and influence on the field.

He was emotional in the aftermath of last Sunday and why wouldn't he be? His heart will always be in Clare, but he has given hugely of himself to Dublin. I'm sure, given the way the season ended last year, that he and his fellow selectors agonised over whether or not coming back was the right thing to do. That they did was a huge vote of confidence in both the players and in themselves and what they were doing.

To win a Leinster title was obviously huge, but to do so in the manner they did will have magnified the satisfaction ten-fold.

Finally, the players opened their shoulders and (as they say in racing) swung for the fences, and hurled with the abandon and fearlessness that characterised their manager as a player. There were no doubts or inhibitions in that performance, and if the win over Kilkenny the previous week was great, that display against Galway surpassed it.

For the more experienced Dublin players, it will have felt extra special. The older and wiser you get, the more you appreciate days like last Sunday. For Stephen Hiney, Dotsy O'Callaghan, Conal Keaney, and the rest of the over 30 brigade, all the effort, the failures, and the bitter disappointments over the years, will have been forgotten.

Keaney has five Leinster football medals, but I'll wager none were as sweet as his first hurling title. Persuading him to return to his first love was a hugely important piece in the Dublin jigsaw. There were bound to have been times over the last couple of years when he must have questioned the decision to throw his lot in with the hurlers. But he was immense, particularly in the second half last Sunday.

Looking back, with 20 minutes left, Dublin were 12 points clear, 2-16 to 0-10, and the game appeared over. The two goals Galway scored in quick succession to halve that deficit would have rattled mentally weaker sides, but on both occasions Dublin responded with the next score.

When Jonathan Glynn rifled what was another great goal opportunity over the bar with eight minutes remaining, Galway's chances went with it. Whatever shackles remained on the Dubs were thrown off and to finish in the style they did was the icing on the cake.

They are genuine All-Ireland contenders now. I think deep down Galway underestimated them, and paid the price. Few will be foolish enough to do so from here on.

No other side in the country has the same confidence and momentum they currently possess, and even though five weeks is a long time to wait for the semi-final, there's no way I can see Dalo, or the players, settling for what they have now.

I learned a long time ago from Ger Loughnane that medals, titles and accolades are all well and good, but at the end of the day, "it's all about respect". That's something that can only be earned. We saw in Nowlan Park last weekend how the Kilkenny crowd responded to the incredible men who populate their team as once more they went to the well for the cause.

The Dublin players can now stand tall too. The euphoria, elation and sheer nirvana their supporters experienced last Sunday, especially the ones who were in Wexford Park, Parnell Park and Portlaoise over the last month, will never be forgotten. They've earned that respect. They've earned mine too.

Irish Independent

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