'They have won nothing yet'
Dublin haven't had time to dwell on a huge victory, writes Dermot Crowe
IT is Tuesday in a hectic week in the life of Anthony Daly. The afternoon before has been given to recreation, playing a round of golf to unwind after returning home to Clare. Later this evening he will spend some time surveying the Clarecastle minors, as low-key as it comes after the manic excitement of defeating Kilkenny for the first time in 71 years in the championship.
"Is there something possible left to write about me?" reads the text responding to a request to talk about an extraordinary week bookended by a famous win and the almost indecent haste of having to hurl Galway in the Leinster final. Dublin, dismissed as genuine contenders, have put the All-Ireland champions to the sword and now must try to slay the team considered second in line, last year's beaten finalists and Leinster title holders.
All of a sudden a week is a long time in Dublin hurling. "Weird is a word I'd have used," he says. "Weird in that you don't have the fortnight. I mean, all our talk is now on Sunday already. Normally you'd have three weeks or four. Now we don't. The enjoyment has to be put on the back burner."
Daly is a mass of energy but appears to have taken a more meditative groove, the result of a greater experience and hard-nosed maturity. "I over-reacted on the line at a club game last year," he says, referring to a highly-publicised bout of fisticuffs during a county minor final between Clarecastle and Kilmaley. "I am calmer on the line now. Even referees and linesmen could tell you that."
This behaviour is also explained by the need to restrain emotions with a defining and critical match like today's encroaching, which has the potential to spoil last weekend's fun. Dublin's growth spurt in underage hurling has not greatly inconvenienced Galway teams. Some of their current players were on an under 21 side savaged by Galway in the 2007 All-Ireland final. They were also dealt a heavy defeat in the same final two years ago in Thurles. On both occasions there was a distinct gulf in class.
The impressive defeat of Galway in Tullamore in the Leinster senior semi-final two years ago has been blurred by the loss after a replay in their league relegation play-off last year. Galway rose from there. Dublin went into a tailspin. But the uncertain correlation between thriving underage success and a senior dividend has never been as luridly exhibited as it has by Galway.
Galway, while notoriously unreliable, can, when their stars are aligned, wipe you off the field. Dublin must look to take the game to them. "You were hoping to set a pattern early on and we achieved that against Kilkenny and the thing then is how you can keep that momentum," Daly says. "It goes up and down. There were a couple of wobbles. We brought off two lads very early, nearly our best two men in the drawn game, but with the way we are competing this year there are no sacred cows. We have fresh lads to come on. It's hard pick the 26 this year. Whereas, other years, it was not. There are two guys outside the 26 who for sure would be on most 26s in the country. Trying to get into the 20, and the 15, is hard. Fellas like Niall McMorrow and Oisín Gough and Martin Quilty, they are all going well and not getting in at the minute. But I think there is a feeling we have been fair to everybody.
"We didn't talk about Kilkenny at all really. We just focused on trying to get out of Division 1B and get to the final of that. That was our initial target. We did that and after that the goal was to win in Wexford. Everybody got a break for two rounds of the club championship. We got back three weeks before Wexford and we felt we would have enough for Wexford but of course they would look at us as a very legitimate target. They felt if they played their best and we were a bit off they'd have a chance. I felt confident we would win the replay. I felt happy about the way we hurled on the night. I saw a lot of things the second night that made me happy.
"Tell you the truth I felt we would have won the match by a lot more if they hadn't had a man sent off because they then played deeper. We took a fair bit of stick, Brian Gavin obviously dealt with it, we did not strike back, kept our cool and took the frees and put the ball down and played away. We said it before going out we probably would get a bit of stick."
The lead-in to Kilkenny was his ideal scenario, low expectations with many feeling the chance was gone. "We saw it as a real chance; they were down a few bodies. But again we looked to get the best out of ourselves. To be able to go to the mirror and say we emptied the tank for each other."
At the final whistle he had achieved what only John Conran had masterminded in the Brian Cody era, managing a win over Kilkenny in the Leinster championship. A replay win was rarer still; the last by any side over Kilkenny in championship went back to 1985. When the whistle sounded, his first task was to greet Cody, normally the one doling out consolation.
"I trotted up to him quickly because people would be up on your back. Met a few people on the way in and we got off the field quickly, I think the only one caught was Rushy (Liam Rushe). To be fair, people have to realise what we are after getting through. They clapped all the Kilkenny players out afterwards
"The bus back home was calm, a good bit of excitement in the dressing room alright. There was a natural release in the dressing room but by the time the bus was going up I glanced back and a few lads were asleep. I'd love to have had three weeks and let the lads have a drink. But they can have a drink next Sunday.
"In years to come you will be able to look back on it and say you beat Kilkenny, I suppose, but the gloss will be gone off it if we don't win Leinster. But we won't be thinking of anyone but ourselves. Galway will be a different type of test in that they will be faster, so we will need to improve and devise a plan.
"Our touch has improved every single week and that will need to come again in Croke Park. That is the target, working the few areas we need to work on. We (the management team) will work on Galway."
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After the match a jubilant crowd of Dublin followers gathered near the players' tunnel and broke into spontaneous song, belting out 'Come on you Boys in Blue' while the players and management had time to themselves. Michael Carton's father, Peadar, a fine county hurler in his day, was there with a large family following and caught up with his son on the way out afterwards. His own father, also a county hurler, took him to Dublin matches in the day when Lar Foley and Dessie Ferguson were in their prime.
"Daly brought them straight off the pitch after the match," Carton says. "Only after coming out of the dressing room did I see Mike, he was very cool and calm. As the lads have said, they have won nothing yet. The crowd were unbelievable, singing, and we all cheered them out of the dressing room afterwards; it was great. It was what they deserved.
"It was fantastic because I met so many people I had played with out on the pitch and it was a really emotional night, you could see it in their faces, what it meant to the real supporters I mean. We had to win a big championship match; that was what we needed. I think we can do it now (win Leinster), I really do. Galway are sort of an unknown quantity. No doubt they will run all over the place. But I feel we can do it."
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Daly was back in Dublin on Wednesday where the players trained lightly and again, behind closed doors, on Friday night when the team was announced on a beautiful summer's evening. Does he feel any sense of personal vindication?
"I knew there were some fellas with the knives out. People involved in the scene, no one would say it to my face, you would hear stuff off other people and you'd see how people change in the way they behave around you. I was aware it was out there. But if they stood back and saw that we were after getting out of Division 1B and made some progress, but I think once they saw the draw – Kilkenny after Wexford – they felt 'ah no chance'."
The physical demands of playing five weeks in a row can't be dismissed. "You can't train. We'll literally play ten minutes of a match tomorrow (Wednesday) night. We have to bring extra lads in to make up 30 but you are not right till Wednesday. Like, the way your body is after an inter-county match, way different to a county final. The level of hitting – and everyone as fit as each other."
Michael Carton dropped into his parents' house during the week, as is his wont, though he now lives in Dunboyne. "I asked him if he was looking forward to it (Leinster final)," says his father, Peadar. "He's calm, he can't wait. I asked if he was nervous. No, he said, I'm looking forward to it."
Many others who have followed the Dublin hurlers down the years will be feeling the same buzz of anticipation.