A BIG day beckons for the stickmen in pale blue. After a hurling Sunday defined by thrilling games and mathematical equations, Anthony Daly’s fearless Dublin hurlers join their football counterparts in this year’s league final.
Their 1-15 to 1-14 win in Páirc Uí Chaoimh sets them up for a first appearance since 1946 and their third meeting of the season with Kilkenny. The venue will be decided up by the CCCC today but Croke Park would seem the ideal choice for both counties.
After a league season that was literally decided deep into injury time in grounds across Ireland, Daly gave his someone-up-there-likes-me smile when he heard that the results elsewhere had gone his way: Waterford and his old pal Davy Fitzgerald had beaten Galway.
The dramatic win extends the steep learning curve on which he and the Dublin hurlers have travelled this year. When the Dubs last played for league silverware, George Bernard Shaw was made a free man of Dublin and two of Daly’s uncles were playing for the Clare team who were victorious in that year’s final.
Such is Daly’s legacy with Clare that conversation outside the Dublin dressing-room returned to the Banner’s furious rise under Ger Loughnane. The immortal summer of 1995 began with an appearance against Kilkenny in that year’s league final.
Could this be the beginning of something wonderful for Dublin?
“We’d take the scenario, anyway,” Daly grinned.
“It’s no relevance at all, 17 years later. Hurling has moved on. Loughnane told us we’d win the Munster championship. I didn’t believe him, for one. Anyway, we don’t want to go back to Clare, do we!
“It was a short-term goal for us to try and make the final and we’re in it now so we’ve to reassess that and try and win the final. We know from the last day in Croke Park that Kilkenny are probably only getting there fitness wise.”
A tour-de-force from Dublin front men David O’Callaghan and Paul Ryan, who landed two devastating frees in the fraught closing minutes, gave Dublin the cutting edge they needed. In the end, the mounting injuries and the missed opportunities in earlier games didn’t matter: Dublin found a way.
If there was any element of luck about their feat, its source was Waterford boss Fitzgerald. In keeping with the spirit of the day, Waterford’s clash with Galway went down to the wire, as they repelled a second-half maroon revival that spun around the kind of virtuoso goal that Joe Canning regularly conjures. But it wasn’t enough.
Drama seems to follow some sportsmen and that has always been the case with Daly and Fitzgerald. The flair for theatre they honed with the Banner County was in full evidence yesterday.
“I’d be telling lies if there wasn’t the odd whisper going up along the line there that Waterford were ahead,” Daly admitted.
“I promised an auld bottle of wine there if he pulled it off, Fitzy, but he doesn’t drink so it is no good to him.
“No, it is great: we heard they had won and Cork had a chance at the end but there was over-carrying or something so it looked as if we were there.
“But look, Dublin people are thrilled because we are so long out of it so we have to get ourselves organised very quick now for the final and we have to perform in that final. That is the key thing, like.”
They made it by the narrowest of margins. Pauric Mahony landed a distant free to push Waterford into a 0-18 to 0-17 lead. So Galway, the league champions, have fallen swiftly out of the sky over their last two league games. Joe Canning marked his return with several breathtaking scores, but overall Galway’s form was mixed.
“We showed a lot of heart, which wasn’t evident against Tipperary, so that’s something to build on,” said John McIntyre, adding the sober reflection: “Although we weren’t playing the All-Ireland champions here. The reality is we lost our last two league games and Waterford were missing a lot of their front-line players too.”
In Thurles, Wexford sought redemption of a personal kind. Prematurely doomed within the county over the past fortnight, a late goal by Willie Doran earned them a draw against All-Ireland champions Tipperary and the right to play Division One for another season.
Only in Kilkenny did the day go to form. The Cats, as expected, beat Offaly on the comfortable margin of 1-27 to 1-19.
Wexford’s great escape in Thurles meant that the guillotine fell on Offaly. And so Kilkenny advance to the league final with the minimum of fuss.
This year’s league final will be a repeat of the Walsh Cup final. The perennial contenders against the latest flame in hurling: old GB Shaw would have approved of the plotting.
* Dublin chairman Andy Kettle agreed their preference would be for a Croke Park meeting.
“We didn’t even think about that but yes, we would love to,” Kettle said after Dublin’s victory. “It’s a national final and although Semple Stadium has the tradition of being the home of hurling, Croke Park would be a fitting stage for it.”
That this year’s pairing comes from Leinster would make staging the game at headquarters seem like an obvious decision
Keith Duggan – Irish Times.