Daly eyes new season
No time to rue football defectors as focus put on driving on in 2010
Thursday January 21 2010
ANTHONY DALY and Conal Keaney were back in the same room yesterday, but that is as close as the Dublin hurling boss will get this year to a player he almost coaxed back to his small-ball roots.
Losing Keaney — or, to be more strictly accurate, failing to win him back — came as a blow to Daly for sure. Yet, as the Clareman made clear at the announcement of Dublin GAA’s €4.65m, six-year sponsorship partnership with Vodafone, he has already moved on.
And so too, he hopes, will the Dublin hurlers as they embark on a critical season in their evolution.
First, though, back to Keaney’s conundrum, one finally resolved last week. At yesterday’s swish launch in the Morrison Hotel, Daly was sitting right next to Pat Gilroy, the manager who eventually won out in this dual-star duel.
“We just put our case, that’s all we could do,” Daly pointed out. “Met him a couple of times, once before Christmas, once just after it. Like, I knew it was going to be a close call. I knew he was agonising over it. I knew he felt torn between both.
“He’s a very sound lad to talk to, and all. And I knew hurling’s in his blood. But, jeez, when you’ve five years invested with a team it’s very hard to just turn your back on that. And I knew that was the big tug. What do you do if you choose the hurling and maybe the footballers go on and win an All-Ireland?
“Ah look, we accept it … what can you do, only wish him the best of luck,” he added. “Same as the O’Carrolls. They chose to go playing football and best of luck to them.”
Certainly, securing all three would have greatly bolstered his options. On the flip-side, the senior hurlers performed heroically last term without Keaney, Rory O’Carroll or (for the most part) his older brother Ross. Even before reaching their first Leinster senior decider in 18 years, the beguiling prospect of league final qualification hovered into spring view.
And this year? “Look, we’d love to get to the league final,” Daly admitted, while stressing the “every game as it comes” mantra and the first priority of avoiding relegation trouble. “There’s no great big targets, league or championship,” he went on. “Come championship, we’ve to meet the winners of Laois and Carlow, and there’s no point in getting carried away. We can be beaten by those as easily as we can beat them.”
Dublin fans of a pessimistic persuasion may look at this year’s Division One programme — away to Waterford, Offaly and Galway, at home to Tipperary, Kilkenny, Cork and Limerick — as tougher on paper than last spring. Daly doesn’t see it in such glass-half-empty terms.
“The traditional three big guns are coming to Dublin, whereas for some of the games in Dublin last year, maybe people fancied we could beat Clare, Waterford, Galway. This year we have Cork, Tipp and Kilkenny coming to Parnell — but maybe that’s more of an opportunity, I’d feel.”
Last February, it’s true, opportunity knocked for Dublin who were able to raid Páirc Ui Chaoimh while Cork’s heavy-hitters were all on strike. Whereas this year they won’t face crisis-hit Limerick until the last round and the Blues boss speculated — maybe only half in jest — that by then they’ll “probably have things sorted out!”
Following the closed-season and its frost-bitten sequel, the Dublin hurlers are back “tearing into it” — even though training has been somewhat fragmented with many of the younger bucks caught up in college GAA activity and/or exams. Michael Carton and to a greater extent Liam Ryan, both coming back from ankle ligament injuries, are the biggest doubts for that league opener in Waterford.
Even at this early stage, Daly has been won over by Shane Ryan’s attitude — not to mention the “few flashes” he showed against DIT in a challenge match last Sunday.
The now former Dublin footballer is “making a fantastic effort. Now, obviously the hurling has to come up — but he has time. Ultimately he has to try and be as good a hurler as he can for the sixth of June.
“The signals so far are huge. As well as doing our sessions, he’s nearly the wall broke outside in Portmarnock. That’s all he can do — keep his head down; practice, practice, practice — and fitness-wise he’s really getting there quickly.”
Likewise, Daly is confident that his three rookie sensations from ’09 — Liam Rushe, David Treacy and Oisin Gough — can avoid the pitfalls of ‘difficult second season syndrome’.
“I think they’re made of the right stuff,” he said, stopping to name-check several more of that U21 crew. “I didn’t even know that they’d be anywhere near the first 15 this time last year. You’d see flashes and you’d heard about them, but I wouldn’t have known them. I know them well now. Oh Jesus, I’d say they’ll be integral parts of the set-up.”
– Frank Roche