“All due respect, you got no f****n’ idea what it’s like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f***in’ thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end, you’re completely alone with it all.”
– Tony Soprano
ANTHONY DALY often references his journeys back home to West Clare, the length of which – or more specifically, how long and arduous the spin felt to him, the sole occupant of the car – tends to be a gauge of the success or otherwise of the Dublin match or training session that preceded it.
A year ago on Sunday, the drive from Portlaoise must have gone on for ever and a day. The search for answers probably isn’t quite concluded yet either and now the road leads him back precisely to the same place, both geographically (O’Moore Park), and in a hurling sense (Kilkenny).
“Last year, I suppose, was a bit more clear-cut,” he reflects now, an identically daunting prospect staring directly back at him. “We had to play Laois last year … now, it would be a different ball game if we had to play them this year, with the way they’re going, but last year we knew they weren’t going great and one eye was on Kilkenny.”
They had both eyes blackened. A defeat every bit as comprehensive as the 18-point margin (2-21 to 0-9) suggests, the shuddering impact of which was made all the more damaging by the fact that firstly, Dublin had failed to perform in every regard and secondly, they had been broadly tipped to cause an upset, not least by themselves.
“We won’t mention that at all to the lads,” he insists. “It’s completely different. We could be going back over matches for the last five years, good ones and bad ones, if you wanted. So no, we will take this as a separate entity altogether.
“This year, really, we knew going down to Wexford Park that we could get an awful battle and we actually ended up getting two,” says Daly of the contrasting build-ups which, he quite clearly hopes, will result in differing Dublin performances.
“So we haven’t had time to be thinking about Kilkenny at all. We got a look at them against Offaly. They conceded a few goals alright, but they were in control mostly. So look, obviously, they have a few injury worries of their own. And that comes to every team at different times. But we are hoping to get a great Dublin performance. That’s what we’re really hoping. Wherever that takes us, I’m not so sure.”
That last sentence carries plenty of genuine sentiment. A year ago, Dublin fully felt that their best would be sufficient to beat Kilkenny or anyone for that matter. Now, it’s debatable whether their optimum would cause the Cats to scramble.
And even at that, they have yet to occupy a hurling plain close to their own best so far over the past two weekends. It remains, as such, an aspiration.
“I’m not reading too much, but anything I’ve looked at, it’s all about how bad the two matches were,” Daly admits. “And that’s fine. It doesn’t count for anything going into Sunday.”
He does concede, however: “But it does probably help in your prep. That people see it as a mismatch and that kind of thing. We’re not green enough to think that Kilkenny will be affected in any way by that kind of thing. They’ve been in that sort of situation so many times. We know they will give us the utmost respect. They always do and that’s why they’re so good.”
Last Saturday night after Wexford were finally put away, Michael Carton admitted that Dublin have retained a peculiar problem handling being favourites for a big championship match. Not, in fairness, a situation that will afflict them this week.
But they have, in Daly’s reign and Tommy Naughton’s before him, harvested a particular penchant for springing a surprise when all the various indicators arrow completely against such a development.
And, as the Clareman has been sharp to clarify, the brass tacks of Dublin’s season are that all of their stated goals thus far have been achieved – one way or the other.
“I think we’re having a fairly good season,” he states. “It’s been fairly positive, so it’s about driving on now. We’ve negotiated that first round (of Leinster). We won the Walsh Cup. We got out of Division 1B of the league. So we have most of the stuff that was laid out at the start of the year accomplished.
“We’re on now to the next phase and let’s see now where we can take the season. That’s what we’re going to do. Try and be the best we can be.”