Anthony Daly. Picture: Sportsfile
SO the die has been cast.
The Dublin hurlers know now for certain what most presumed would transpire anyway when the draw was made for the Leinster SHC: they will become the latest team to have a crack at Kilkenny’s staggering provincial record.
It’s eight years since they were beaten in Leinster. Eight summers since Michael Jacob’s injury-time pick-pocketing of Peter Barry on the edge of the Kilkenny square, a Wexford win which denied the Cats a seventh straight Bob O’Keeffe Cup success.
That makes it one Leinster defeat in 14 seasons of Brian Cody’s incredible stewardship.
They are the reigning All-Ireland champions and league title holders, and possess hurlers who have become legends of the game and, unquestionably, the greatest manager of all time.
“They do,” agrees Tomás Brady, a man fairly certain to line out against the Cats in Portlaoise in just under three weeks’ time after coming through his first inter-county match on Saturday against Laois since rupturing his cruciate ligament.
“And it’s up to us to break that record. But Kilkenny, no matter what, will always be moving well. They won the league so they have momentum behind them despite not having played a championship game.
“There is plenty to work on in the next few weeks and if we have everyone fit and available and fighting for places, we can definitely, definitely match them.”
And for the first time in a decade, there are those in Dublin and further afield who share Brady’s belief that Dublin can beat Kilkenny in a championship hurling match.
It’s not that Kilkenny are at anything like the low ebb Dublin capitalised upon in last year’s league final when Messrs Power, Walsh, Shefflin and Fennelly were absent.
It’s just that Anthony Daly’s men have been charting something of a rising graph, passing milestone after milestone without ever having really troubled Kilkenny in the championship — the next logical step on their journey.
And with Brady back alongside fellow cruciate victims Conal Keaney and Stephen Hiney, the Dubs’ impressive physicality is bolstered to the degree whereby Kilkenny’s famous aggression should be met by an equal and opposite reaction.
“They’ve been training with us for the last couple of months and it was great to see them out there,” reflected Shane Durkin, another nailed-on starter in three weeks’ time in a midfield battle-zone unlikely to contain either Hurler of the Year Michael Fennelly or Michael Rice.
“They’ve spent a long time doing a lot of hard work so their reward was going out there and playing for Dublin again.”
All three played 70 minutes on Sunday but, according to Brady, their selections were fully justified by form rather than the simple need to get a match under their belts before Kilkenny.
Brady himself was switched from corner to wing-back in order to get more deeply involved at a time when testing balls into his area were few and far between.
“The three of us have worked extremely hard,” he explained. “We’ve played challenge matches and with matches with our clubs and I think we deserved our starting places.
“It’s tough on lads who had to miss out after playing well during the year but everybody is going to be needed from here on in and the strength of the squad … you can just see it in every line of the team.
“It was great for Stephen and Conal as well. The two of them played excellent. I was really happy with the overall performance and just looking forward now to three weeks’ time against Kilkenny.”
Daly is now in an enviable position, one he must have fantasised about when those cruciates began to snap. He has the closest thing to a full hand he has enjoyed at any point in the last two years, Ryan O’Dwyer back from suspension and a defence with pace and power to match the best.
Even their initial sharpness against a pretty meek Laois effort on Saturday suggested the timing of their training has worked according to plan.
“It was good to go back to the club after the league and do a bit of hurling,” reckoned Durkin.
“Everyone came back in really fresh and straight away, you could see everyone was focused on getting ready for Laois. It’s just one step along the way.
“We’ll prepare for the Kilkenny game the same way we prepared for Laois. We’ll have to go out and perform.
“We can’t affect Kilkenny and how they perform and all the records they have. We just want to focus on ourselves and if it’s enough, it’s enough.”
– Conor McKeon – Evening Herald