Sunday 22 April 2018

Vincent Hogan: Dunne aware that a man's critic is not necessarily his enemy

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Maybe the first thing to declare about Liam Dunne is that no man ever steps more cheerfully over the barricades when shrapnel begins to fly.

So if it feels as if there's not much love out there for him just now, take it he won't be moping behind drawn curtains.

More likely the Wexford hurling manager met each day this week with that gentle, ambivalent smile that, for 16 years in his county's colours, had opponents on their guard.

Dunne probably encountered a sense of deja vu even when finding himself up before 'The Sunday Game' dock last Sunday night on a charge of endangering the health of opponents.

Wexford were rightly upbraided by Michael Duignan for their more intemperate moments in Parnell Park against Dublin, just as Dunne himself was criticised in the very same studio 11 years earlier having been red-carded in his third successive championship.

In his autobiography 'I Crossed The Line', Dunne wrote that his primary recognition factor in hurling back then was as "a dirty little b*****d that broke fingers for a living".

This line, needless to say, had more to do with self-parody than truth. Because Liam Dunne was a wonderful hurler who, at just 5ft 8ins, managed to dominate some of the biggest, most combative centre-forwards in hurling through nearly two decades of epic service.

"I played on the edge to survive," he wrote in 2004. It was a strategy that won him an All-Ireland and three All Star awards.

Dunne's life in hurling has been governed by a refusal to be deferential in any company. Yet, Wexford have been largely in the doldrums for a decade or so now and he will have known that he faced a relatively thankless task two years ago when accepting the challenge of managing the county's seniors. He would, mind, have faced it with the philosophy that, if nothing else, on his watch Wexford would reacquaint themselves with pride.

I don't doubt that was his mission statement for this championship, a rallying cry to – as that euphemism goes – get his men to "hurl on the edge". After all, that's what the big teams have schooled themselves to do.

Through winter, Dunne put Wexford's players on the kind of strength and conditioning programme that is such a physical imperative for any serious hurling team today.

That programme will take a minimum of three years to reap tangible reward yet, already, Wexford look bigger.

But the big teams also go to war with calculating minds and that's not easy. Wexford seemed to find this out to their cost against Dublin as a desire to hit hard and often quickly curdled into a blur of unhinged aggression.

True, the lawlessness wasn't exclusive to one side, but Wexford's sins were so obvious, so lacking in street savvy, you had to suspect they had simply run over the cliff of self-control.

CONTRITION

The pat response to Duignan's criticisms this week has been to remind the former Offaly player of '98, as if he had yet to show contrition for a pull across Clare's David Forde in Croke Park that the same 'The Sunday Game' replayed many times over.

But Duignan has never exactly hidden from the ugliness of that moment. "There was no doubt I should have been sent off," he wrote in his own book, 'Life, Death and Hurling'. "It was inexcusable."

So for Wexford, a more practical step towards a better future would surely be in accepting the criticism that fell their way this week. Because successful teams are educated by their own mistakes. The foolish just take umbrage.

In a perverse way, there may even be something redemptive about what happened at Parnell Park.

Because for all the wildness and sporadic stupidity shown, there was also an implicit defiance in Wexford's body language. They didn't meekly acquiesce as the game began to drift out of their reach. They didn't roll meekly over as happened so often in recent summers.

Wexford kept hurling like men who cared and maybe, just maybe, that can be a starting point.

They'll get plenty to contend with at Wexford Park today from Antrim and, logically, it's difficult to make a case for them having any kind of extended run into autumn now. Winning becomes the only unanswerable response to criticism and, ultimately, that is Wexford's challenge.

But Liam Dunne knows that better than most. He was eight years an inter-county hurler before discovering what it was like to lift silverware. "Wexford were perennial losers and I grew to be one as well," he wrote in his autobiography.

It took the evangelist's tongue of Liam Griffin to guide them to their destiny in '96. Griffin had many gifts but, prime among them, was the intelligence to know that a man's critic isn't necessarily his enemy.

Expect Wexford to be fine. And Liam Dunne with them.

 

Friday 'guinea pigs' deserve more respect

I DON'T doubt Liam O'Neill  never intended it that way, but his flat "the rules are the rules" response to suggestions of compensation for players involved in Friday night championship games sounded more than a touch patronising this week.

The GAA is in tricky territory here, invoking their amateur rules as if on reflex, yet imposing new conditions for inter-county players that make pretty broad assumptions on the lives they lead.

Friday night football has a natural appeal, yet it seems inconceivable that the players of Laois and Carlow could be blithely wheeled out as guinea pigs for the experiment without any element of prior consultation with them.

The GAA doesn't own inter-county footballers or hurlers.

Irish Independent

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