Ryan O’Dwyer, Dublin, in action against, from left, William Egan, Daniel Kearney, Stephen McDonnell, Tom Kenny and Conor O’Sullivan
VINCENT HOGAN – 12 AUGUST 2013
The bruises of the day sit heavily on Anthony Daly as he steps into an auditorium plump with sympathetic faces. Words are superfluous, yet he chats with polite reserve about the city’s stolen thunder.
The missionary in him would have adored playing Pied Piper with these people, leading them into a September Sunday, every street outside Croke Park paved like a mirror of the sky. It won’t happen now.
Dublin hurling remains in a parallel universe to its football brethren, ebbing closer but still separate.
The Hill drew a fine crowd yesterday, yet the congregation was more Easter Novena in density than midnight Mass at Christmas. A slab of the terracing was closed and, of that open for business, parts of it had surrendered conspicuously to brazen splays of crimson.
On any football Sunday, such audacity would be soundly discouraged on health and safety grounds. But hurling is a different universe.
There are those who resent what they see as the hot-housing of Dublin hurling. Three of yesterday’s starting line-up are employed as full-time coaches in the city and as many as 50 people take a salary from the game. This doesn’t sit that well with some who see in it a kind of official prejudice towards making Dublin strong.
But every single dime the GAA has invested in hurling in the capital has been matched by Dublin themselves. Hurling in the city is still protected, above all, by the same culture of volunteerism that keeps the game alive in rural Ireland.
This is a largely self-sufficient community, wrestling with prejudicial forces of its own. They still lose much of their brightest talent to football.
Ciaran Kilkenny, who made his name as an U-14 hurler with the Castleknock team that won an All-Ireland Feile in ’07, was sitting in the stand yesterday with the county’s football panel. Diarmuid Connolly, who was midfield on the Dublin Colleges’ team that beat St Flannan’s in the All-Ireland ‘A’ hurling final in ’06, sat in the same group.
Ditto, two of the brightest young hurlers in Dublin this year, Cormac Costello and Eric Lowndes.
So Daly knows what an All-Ireland final might have done for Dublin’s hurling community. “I’m just disappointed now because the All-Ireland is a special day,” he sighs. “I’d love the lads to have experienced it. And it would have done another whole pile for Dublin hurling to get into that day as well.”
They’ve played a central role in this wild summer, winning a first Leinstertitle since ’61, and hurling like a team that could, notionally, make expectant eyes at Liam MacCarthy.
But regret ambushes every syllable now. Regret and a nagging sense of hurt.
Ryan O’Dwyer’s 50th-minute dismissal for a second yellow tilted a thrilling contest Cork’s way and, for Daly at least, aroused the suspicion of a hurler perhaps suffering for past sins.
The Cashel man has had his share of scrapes with referees and James Owens’ decision to wave yellow for a mistimed first-minute shoulder on Luke O’Farrell left O’Dwyer on wafer-thin ice. Yet, remarkably, he was summoning a compelling, selfless display on the ’40’ when, to Dublin’s horror, he mistimed another challenge on Lorcan McLoughlin. And Owens pulled the pin.
“The referee put himself under pressure for the first yellow,” sighs Daly. “I mean the second one was a free and a yellow, I think Ryan will admit that straight away. But I was right beside the first one, shoulder on shoulder. How is it a yellow card?
“If you dish out one of those after a minute… I feel sorry for Ryan, I thought he had a tremendous match. He’s given us a great year.
“Do you get the yellow on reputation, because you’ve been sent off before? There was nothing malicious in what he did the first time.”
Had the referee perhaps been trying to set a tone?
“Why?” asks Daly. “Did anyone think Dublin and Cork would be dirty or something? No great rivalry, no great history. I don’t know. Would somebody else have got the yellow? I don’t know, I can’t talk for James Owens. I can just say how disappointed we are, disappointed for Ryan.
“To be sent off today, it’s hard on him. You know, it’s a big day, I presume his family are in the stand. We saw it again a couple of weeks ago with probably the greatest player we ever saw. That was rescinded, I hope the powers that be might have a look at this as well.”
It certainly seemed paradoxical that such a free-flowing lyric of a game should be so profoundly shaped by a red card. With the sides level on 15 occasions, fractions mattered.
And Dublin certainly had reason to curse O’Dwyer’s spurned 43rd-minute goal opportunity when his shot carried plenty of venom but a convenient trajectory for Anthony Nash to save.
The game was thundering to a wonderful tempo, scrubbed free of cynicism, score following score with a drumbeat feel. And even after O’Dwyer’s departure, Dublin did not acquiesce. Indeed, until Pat Horgan’s 66th-minute theft off the bas of Gary Maguire’s hurley, the blue revolution still blazed. But that Cork goal drew a jolt from Daly on the line, as if the air had suddenly been sucked from him.
Little doubts, he conceded, had been settling by his ribcage beforehand, Dublin blazing “a few mad wides”.
Now the sense of loss was profound. “I think we expected that we might win today,” he shrugs gently when asked how defeat compared to a semi-final loss against Tipperary in 2011.
“We were very hopeful we might get the result. There was a real anticipation in the camp that we could drive on and win an All-Ireland. We just focused on getting a big performance today and we did get that big performance. So I’m very proud of the boys.”
He will take time to replenish his hunger now and see wherever it takes him. The temptation to go again, you have to suspect, will be strong.
Asked about the summer demise of hurling’s so-called big guns, Daly did what he has always done. He challenged the cliche.
“Who are the big guns?” he asked. “We all feel that we’re the big guns at this stage!”
A banner on the Hill proclaimed ‘Dalo, Honorary Dub Forever’. He has taken them a distance towards shedding their ambivalence. Still a parallel universe, but ebbing closer.