By Frank Roche – 03 September 2014 02:30 PM
IT’S the week of an All-Ireland final and Tipperary coach Paudie O’Neill is fine-turning his squad for the ultimate test, Kilkenny in September.
It’s the week of an All-Ireland final and Dublin, meanwhile, are officially on the look-out for a new senior hurling manager.
Anthony Daly’s last game as Sky Blue supremo came against Tipp opponents whose slickness of delivery and accuracy of execution were in marked contrast to the losers.
It sparked a debate, fuelled by certain pundits, that Dublin had come to resemble a team of manufactured hurlers. But according to O’Neill, the tag is an unfair slight on the current players and their now-retired manager.
The Clonmel native should know: he has spent much of his adult life immersed in underage coaching in the Capital, including spells with the Dublin minors and U21. As he sees it, the current Dublin hurlers are for real but they are the product of a ‘manufactured’ tradition.
“There’s a different context between Dublin and, say, the traditionally strong hurling counties,” he reflected, speaking at Tipp’s All-Ireland press evening in Thurles.
“I think Dublin deserve great credit for the fantastic progress that’s being made, and I mean that genuinely. But I know myself, the club I was associated with in Dublin, Ballyboden St Enda’s – 30 years ago there was no hurling, effectively, in Ballyboden. None.
“Now, you can describe it as an artificially induced environment, but everybody involved deserved great credit because they had to actually work extremely hard to create that.
“The essential difference down here is that in the traditional hurling counties, hurling is more part of the community. In Dublin it is still getting to that stage,” added the retired St Colmcille’s, Knocklyon primary school principal.
But what about Dublin’s lack of finesse or penetration against Kilkenny in the Leinster final (when they scored just 1-9 to lose by 12 points) or Tipperary in the All-Ireland quarter-final (tallying 0-16 to lose by 13)?
“I think too much has been made of that performance by Dublin (against Tipp) in negative terms,” O’Neill maintained.
“Because if you look over the last three years … I was in Croke Park in 2011 when they won the National League. I was there last year when they won the Leinster championship, and they gave a very good account of themselves in the All-Ireland semi-final. I don’t think anybody was talking about manufactured hurlers on those occasions.”
O’Neill was speaking before confirmation that Daly was stepping down. “Since Anthony Daly came in, Dublin have transformed,” he declared. “It is now accepted that they’re up there in the top six-eight teams in the country. They’ve achieved national and provincial success. That’s unprecedented.
“I don’t think they should be judged on the basis of one match; that’s wrong and unfair to them. Look at last year’s championship – they drew with Kilkenny and beat them the following week. Those are marvellous achievements and I don’t think that was all dissipated on the basis of one performance.”
He then returned to a familiar theme. “The environment is manufactured – and it had to be manufactured because it didn’t exist,” he pointed out.
“You take at club level in Dublin. The actual man hours that have been put in, the very fact that kids are being put on buses or into cars and brought down to play matches nearly every week of the year now, outside of Dublin … that didn’t have to be done, for example, in Thurles because the environment was there.
“In 1997 I was manager of the Dublin minor team and we ran a development squad parallel with us – under-17 – and it was Kevin Heffernan who was the chairman of coaching and games in Dublin at the time. He promoted that idea.
“That was initiated in Dublin nearly 20 years ago, but now it is accepted as just par for the course in all counties … that you have a player pathway and try and produce good-quality players.”
Something for the new Dublin boss, whoever he is, to mull over.