TWICE, Anthony Daly has won the Walsh Cup as Dublin manager. On neither occasion, however, did he seem as animated after the final as he did on Saturday night in Croke Park.
Dublin lost 0-24 to 1-17 in a game which they mounted a decent late effort at carving a win they never would have deserved.
Duly, Daly pronounced himself dissatisfied with their modus operandi on a night when, ideally, Dublin might have taken a more sustained fight to a Kilkenny team already compiling the necessary ammunition for a more distinguished year than the unusual one just endured.
“We seemed to want it to happen for us without making it happen,” Daly reflected. “Our game is to go and play with that cut and thrust and we didn’t play with that at all.”
Instead, Kilkenny made it happen, picking off scores like they’d never been away.
An uninterrupted succession of seven in the first half put them in command and a similar sequence comprising six without retort meant Dublin’s late cry fell on deaf ears.
“You see what you get,” said Daly of Kilkenny. “Larkin – sharp, Fennelly – sharp … They’ve a lot of work done, it’s obvious and nothing we weren’t expecting. They just went to the ball that bit more; our lads played reactive rather than being that bit proactive. We weren’t going for it.”
“We’re in the middle of desperate heavy stuff at the moment,” he added in mitigation. “We did an hour and 15 minutes hard work on Thursday night and this is Saturday night. You can’t let up on that because you’re trying to get right for the start of the League.”
It’s understandable that Daly is already preoccupied with the League. Just like the Walsh Cup, it has almost systematically been the case during his reign that a good spring has pre-empted a successful Championship.
Equally, League lethargy has either elicited or coincided with rough year-endings. And Daly is familiar enough with the process now that he is taking no chances.
“You only really know when you run out,” he shrugged.
“If we play well, ye guys will all say we’re going well and, if we’re not … It’s hard to know, but we have worked very hard and I’m very happy with the commitment, I have to say.
“Hopefully it will come out because they are two huge games, Galway and Clare, seven days apart. It’s the same for everyone with the start of the League. You want to hit the ground running, but you could get two wins and still end up in the relegation play-off. Or you could get two wins and end up in the quarter-finals. It’s a tight system; a tight group.”
Notably, Daly fielded a strong XV on Saturday night, including the two brightest sparks available from the 2012 Leinster-winning minor team, Cian O’Callaghan and Colm Cronin.
And if you were hedging your bets, the former is more likely to see sustained action to springtime … as much through Dublin’s lack of available corner-backs as anything else.
“Paul (Schutte) is out,” Daly said.
“Niall (Corcoran) is back in full training and he would have trained today with the other group. He played in the match on Thursday night, so he’ll be an option (against Galway in Salthill). It’s no harm to get a look at the other lads and getting them used to other lads.”
Cronin had his moments during this competition too, but unfortunately for Dublin on Saturday night, he spurned a chance for a goal when it might have actually landed some silverware.
“The next day he’ll get that chance and he’ll kick on and go in further with it. That’s how you learn; it’s a learning curve,” said his manager, reflecting on Cronin’s hooked effort for a goal after a run of seven points out of eight put Dublin back within swinging distance of Kilkenny late on.
Brian Cody, a man who has followed All-Ireland wins with glum press conferences, was predictably indifferent afterwards.
“We’re reasonably happy the way things are going. The lads acquitted themselves well,” he said, adding that Henry Shefflin was “absolutely flying”, despite the fact that the Ballyhale man made no appearance on Saturday night.
For Daly, solace will come partly in the shape of Mark Schutte after the Cuala man scored five points from play in a notable performance in attack.
Similarly, it was probably no coincidence that Dublin’s renaissance came after Danny Sutcliffe’s arrival as a second half substitute, while Conal Keaney and Dotsy O’Callaghan (particularly after moving deeper into midfield) also had their moments.
Against that, he watched his half-back line concede nine points from play, even if Liam Rushe’s presence in two weeks’ time will tighten matters there.
“We would have liked to win it,” Daly admitted, “but winning in two weeks’ time is more important. Winning the Walsh Cup and losing down in Galway? I’d take winning down in Galway.”