We won't beat Kilkenny in our heads -- Daly
"WE have got to play Kilkenny on the pitch, not in our heads, like last year."
So says Dublin hurling manager Anthony Daly as they head into their massive rematch with the Cats in Saturday's provincial semi-final in Portlaoise.
Last year's Leinster final clash was played out against a fascinating backdrop of Dublin beating Kilkenny twice in the league, including their shock victory in the final, only to suffer a massive 4-17 to 1-15 backlash come championship time.
But Daly now reflects that his players probably let the notion of a backlash creep into their consciousness. "This time last year we were deliberately avoiding that kind of talk, but sometimes it seeps in," he admitted.
"Everyone was talking about 'a backlash'. Fellas at work, fellas at school, fellas on Twitter, in everything they were reading and hearing, and maybe that just played inside in fellas' heads a bit."
As part of the great Clare team of the '90s Daly knows personally just how heavily the hand of history can mess with a player's head. "We used to get caught up in occasions and 'Munster finals' and 'we were going to be the first team since '32' and all that too," he said.
"Eventually the penny dropped in '96, to play the feckin' thing inside the four white lines and forget about it being 'Limerick' or 'the occasion' and just play the hurling match and it clicked on the day for us."
So, the Dublin strategy this summer has been firmly: see no evil, speak no evil and forget that those approaching jerseys are black and amber.
"We're actually not talking about beating them (Kilkenny) at all, we're talking about playing our best," Daly said. "Being the best that we can be on the day, that's what we're trying to focus on. We got a bit caught up last year in the Leinster final with 'can we do it again now?'" he admitted.
"So, we're ignoring that and just trying to be as good as we can be on the day. I know everyone says that kind of stuff now anyway, but that's the reality for us," he stressed. "If we get caught up in them (Kilkenny) we won't do anything, we'll freeze. We want to go and play, and try and express ourselves and have a cut here and see where that can take us, to play with freedom, free with some abandon."
Kilkenny have only lost one game in Leinster in the last 14 years -- to Wexford in 2004 -- and, despite all of Dublin's recent underage success, none of them has ever beaten the Cats at this level. But Daly will not countenance such negativity.
"Stop!" he flashes. "We hadn't beaten them in a National League final either until last year! Sure there's no point in going down if you don't believe you can beat them."
Dublin had some unlucky results in the league and were eventually relegated after a play-off with Galway, but their game in Nowlan Park in mid-March really caught the headlines.
The All-Ireland champions edged it by a point, but the extraordinary 5-16 to 6-12 scoreline indicated that Dublin weren't for backing down, to which one local supporter took umbrage.
"It was a freak of nature that game, but Kilkenny still won and some fella told me about it straight after the final whistle as well. It's bad enough losing without some fella roarin' into your ear!" Daly quipped.
"In fairness Brian Cody and Ned Quinn (Kilkenny secretary) couldn't have been more apologetic," he stressed. "But that'll tell you the way they think (in Kilkenny), they don't even like people challenging them at times!"
Daly reckons Tommy Walsh's aerial ability is "God-given. Like, he isn't the biggest man on the field and how good is he at it... but he obviously has that fierce bravery in the air too, he doesn't flinch an inch! He doesn't even jump that high, he just times the jump so well.
"But we've a good few ourselves, like Conal coming back and Danny and Rushie are good in the air and Tomas is no slouch either," he added.
"We've seen Kilkenny dominate some teams completely in the air, but we've worked hard on our aerial training and having the key personnel back is a help too."