Wednesday 13 December 2017

Outside edge

IF memory serves me correctly, GAA president Christy Cooney has, from time to time, questioned the wisdom of counties bringing in outside managers.

Fair enough, it's his personal viewpoint, no doubt sincerely held, but I have to disagree with him. By way of supporting evidence, let's go back to Croke Park last Sunday as Dublin applied a concerted level of pressure on Tipperary that the All-Ireland champions hadn't experienced all summer.

Dublin weren't just in Tipperary's faces; they were on their backs and at their sides too. This was new-look Dublin stretching every sinew in their attempt to wear down Tipperary. Ultimately, Dublin came up short, but not before Tipperary had been given their toughest championship test since Cork beat them in the Munster championship a year last May.

The more you watched Dublin, the more you saw them playing in the image and likeness of their manager. We all recall the energy and intensity Clare brought to their game in the Ger Loughnane era. They were a very good team, made even better by that special brand of 'madness' that flowed through their game.

Nobody epitomised it more than Anthony Daly. As captain, wing-back and all-round enforcer, he was crucial to creating and maintaining Clare's glory days in the 1990s. Now, he's just as important to Dublin as they build inexorably towards what they hope will be an All-Ireland winning breakthrough over the next few years.

Now, with all due respect to the managerial talent available in Dublin, I doubt if the current levels would have been reached without Daly and his smart sideline associates. And if Dublin hadn't got this far, how could they hope to press on again?

Daly has brought something to Dublin that none of the locals possessed. He was an All-Ireland winner, not just as a player but as a major influence on the entire Banner scene. That's why he was Clare captain for so long. He later managed them and while they won neither Munster nor All-Ireland titles, the reality is that they weren't good enough at that time.

Daly got as much as he could out of them. He also picked up lots of managerial nous, which, when coupled with his experience as a player (and a winner), made him ideal for Dublin. In fairness to the Dublin power-brokers, they recognised that and have been rewarded with their best season for 50 years.

The National League trophy and Walsh Cup are in Parnell Park; Dublin reached the All-Ireland semi-final, losing to the reigning champions by four points while four excellent players were unavailable due to injury. Galway (league), Kilkenny and Tipperary (championship) were the only counties to beat Dublin, who are now ready to take things a stage further next year.

It won't be easy. They will need to add even more of the Daly 'madness' and tweak various parts of what is still a work-in-progress, but, hey, they're right up there now. An outside manager very definitely worked for Dublin and, by extension, for hurling too.

After all, the more counties that push their way towards the heights reached by Tipperary and Kilkenny, the better for the game as a whole. Dublin have set an example, one which others can follow.

One of Dublin's great strengths this year was their intensity. They applied themselves like demons to every challenge. That's not bringing rocket science to hurling; it's just using a relentless work ethic, which is within the reach of any side.

Of course, Dublin have huge talent, too, but they're not the only ones in that boat. Do Galway, for instance, have a higher level of skill than Dublin?

Probably, but they're not matching Dublin when it comes to the 'madness' required to exert physical authority on a game.

What Dublin have done is quite simple. Good players, well coached and all united in pursuit of a clearly identified target -- that's the template. In Dublin's case, it was done with an outsider which isn't always necessary. However, it's the perfect fit for Dublin.

A final thought on last Sunday's semi-final. The best way to win an All-Ireland semi-final is to scrape through in a tough game. It's nervous territory when it's happening but once a team comes through, they're all the better for it.

So it is with Tipperary, who were made to work really hard by Dublin. It was the ideal build-up for the big one against Kilkenny.

Irish Independent

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