The world spins at such an alarming rate sometimes that it can throw you for a bit of a loop when you stop to look around. You might not instinctively think that Anthony Daly has been around Dublin hurling for all that long, yet the reality is that heading into his fifth year in the job he is the second-longest serving intercounty manager in the game.
Take out gnarly old Can’t-Stop-Won’t-Stop down in Kilkenny and nobody else comes within three years of Daly’s service.
The decision to go again this time around took a little bit of making, more so than in previous years at any rate. Dublin’s 2012 was a collapsed soufflé of a season, the initial hope and confidence replaced by resignation come their qualifier exit to Clare in July.
When Daly put his players back on the bus that Saturday night – the game was in Ennis so he was staying put while they trudged back to Dublin – he wasn’t certain that he’d be carrying on. He felt he would and he hoped he would but feelings and hopes are sand. It takes a decision to make them concrete.
“I thought about it a bit,” he says. “We were very disappointed with the way things finished up. Takes you a bit of time to get over it and that kind of thing. Then you have four seasons done so you’re saying: ‘Is it time to go away and let someone at it?’ I suppose with a bit of time and being anxious that the players would have a meeting, you know, I kind of wanted to know if the players wanted to change. If they wanted a change, then we’ve seen too many of those things over the last 10 years, players not wanting managers. If I thought that was the case I would have walked away with no bad feeling to anyone.
“No, they came back positive and the board were positive so it was a matter of making up my own mind to see was I willing to go again. My man had given up the pub, he had four years done on the lease and I had to go back but, luckily enough, I got a client and that sorted that. I couldn’t really do both, to be honest. You just couldn’t, you’d be missing too often.”
In situ then for a fifth spin on the carousel, he and his side begin this year surrounded by nothing of the hum that accompanied them 12 months ago. Daly sees now that they got carried away with talk of them moving into the top echelon and far from defending their league title to confirm that status, they let it get away from them to end up relegated.
It fed directly into what became the worst summer of his reign.
“We were listening to people on the street and at work and everything and taking that in and not respecting what got us there and we didn’t do that enough. We didn’t respect what got us there in 2011, what won the league and got us to an All-Ireland semi-final – we didn’t respect that enough. We thought things would happen automatically last year.
All hindsight now
“This is all hindsight now. If you asked me this time last year I thought we were going well.
“When you look back on it, Laois beat us in the Walsh Cup and I remember driving home that day not giving a whim. Like: ‘Well, we could do without the Walsh Cup probably this year.’ Then we were beaten in Salthill and I can tell you I wasn’t driving home that day saying it. I was thinking: ‘Well, there’s four games to go here and they’re not easy ones. We’ve to go to Nowlan Park, we’ve to go to Waterford.’ Alarm bells started to ring around then and you just had to try and pick it up. But we never got it going.”
And so to Division 1B and Saturday night’s opener against Offaly. Daly doesn’t shrink from the fact that they’d far rather be facing a Cork or a Kilkenny but the lessons of last year tells him to respect the work in front of his team again. Offaly are first and will be given their due.
“I think Offaly will always feel that with somehow Dublin’s emergence, they were maybe fancying themselves as the next threat to Kilkenny in Leinster and now there’s another team coming along. And they’re there: ‘Where have this crowd come out of?’
“There’s always that bit of an edge between Dublin and Offaly I find.”