Danny Sutcliffe. Picture: Sportsfile
DANNY Sutcliffe may be a mere 20 years old, but Ryan O’Dwyer believes the up-and-coming Dub has the maturity of a veteran inter-county hurler.
It’s easy to see why O’Dwyer is a fan. Sutcliffe has torn into the exclusive men’s club that is senior top-flight inter-county hurling with the gusto of a fella who has been longing for a decade to get a chance, rather than the prodigy he was always considered, destined for easy stardom.
“He’s got a cockiness, but in the right manner,” says O’Dwyer. “He’s very down to earth, very mannerly. He’s so driven and so focused.
“On the pitch, he leads by example. He’s just after turning 20 and you wouldn’t think it. We’re learning more off him than he’s learning off us.
“He goes out and he doesn’t care who he’s marking. That’s what I mean by cockiness, he doesn’t care who he’s marking. It’s just another match to him and just another player.
“He goes out and he does the best he can, and it’s really an eye-opener for the likes of myself.”
Doesn’t care who he’s marking? Just as well, given the illustrious litany of markers Sutcliffe has encountered in his first full year in the Dublin senior squad.
Among Sutcliffe’s achievements in a still embryonic inter-county hurling career are seeing off both John Gardiner and the great Tommy Walsh in direct combat, forcing the former’s substitution in Croke Park back in March and, even more impressively, sticking two goals on the latter in Nowlan Park, a performance which saw the iconic Tullaroan man dropped for Kilkenny’s next league match.
In short, he’s done by the age of 20 what the game’s top forwards will try and fail to achieve in their entire careers.
“The best thing to do is you don’t concentrate on who you’re marking,” Sutcliffe explains of the experience. “It’s good to say it. But when I was in the situation where I was playing on him, I just put it out of my head who he was.”
Sure, but… Tommy Walsh?!
“Once you concentrate on the ball, it doesn’t matter who is beside you,” he responds, somewhat refreshingly.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s me and the ball, that’s the most important thing.”
Sutcliffe was one of those guys who had hatched a reputation for himself by the time he had hit his mid-teens, one of the potential leaders of the revolution.
Taller than most of his peers, his hurling stature carried Sutcliffe’s name around the county as a St Jude’s centre-back of pretty epic pedigree.
Between St Jude’s, Coláiste Eoin and Dublin development/ minor teams, Sutcliffe — like David Treacy before him or Ciarán Kilkenny subsequently — was tipped for guaranteed stardom.
The day he made it known that his time had come, however, was a dank, dreary January afternoon in Portlaoise when he took the plaudits of his manager, despite a three-point defeat by Leinster opponents Laois in the Walsh Cup.
“It was fantastic to see young Sutcliffe there at 19 be able to step up and hold his own so there’s one (player) saying, ‘I want to be there and I can play at this level’ and that’s how it looks for me,” enthused Daly.
“Days like today are about finding out who is tough enough, who has it for inter-county.”
After that, there wasn’t a hope in hell Sutcliffe would be left out of Daly’s initial league selection against Galway, a day when only he and Peter Kelly emerged with any real credit.
“I was just happy to get a bit of game time in the league,” reflects Sutcliffe now. “My goal this year was just to play. I didn’t know where I stood at Christmas and the Walsh Cup didn’t go that well.
“My highlight was just getting out to play and then once I started scoring, my confidence soared so I was happy with that.”
There was a time when Dublin didn’t have ball-winning half-forwards — not a single one. Now, Conal Keaney, Liam Rushe, O’Dwyer, David Treacy and Ross O’Carroll all fit that particular bill, yet it is Sutcliffe who is the player most certain of his spot along that line come summer.
The drawn league match with Tipperary perhaps best crystalises why. All through the second half, Gary Maguire’s puckout went one direction, one length — one-size-fits-all. Quite simply, it was because Tipp couldn’t get a handle on Sutcliffe’s aerial prowess and he caught skyscraping ball after skyscraping ball.
“It probably helped that with the club, I played centre-back and with Dublin at minor and under-21,” he reckons. “I’m under puckouts and I’m attacking them.
“It’s the same now. It’s just I’m attacking them from a different end. It’s something you work on. I just go up and try and get it. I don’t think a whole lot about it.
“There is a lot of judgement involved and a lot of timing. You don’t want to hang under the ball for too long because you’ll just get pushed out of the way. You just have to get there at the right time and grab it. It’s not something I think about. I’ve just been in the situation so often, you pick up different techniques as you go along.”
Talent, confidence, bravery… it’s not hard to see why Daly likes Sutcliffe so much, and it’s no surprise to see that he tries to keep his new player’s head uncluttered going into battle.
“He would come over to me before a game and just tell you to do what you do,” Sutcliffe explains, “to keep going and to play like you’ve been playing for the club or whatever. Not to change everything just because there are a few more people watching. You just play with that abandon. That’s the basis of it.
“Like, I’ve been waiting for this for a while,” he says, like a journeyman boxer who was forced to bide his time for the title fight.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do was play Dublin senior. When it came, I was ready to take it. But I want to keep working, get on the Championship team and then stay there.”
It won’t have taken him long to get in… but just watch how long he stays.
– Conor McKeon – Evening Herald