19 APRIL 2013
If Dublin are looking for some additional motivating material ahead of Sunday’s Division 1 semi-final against Tipperary, a browse through the results of previous meetings under Anthony Daly’s management should have them feeling good about themselves on the road to Thurles.
Over the course of five matches – four league and one championship – their aggregate lead over Tipp is four points, 8-81 to 5-86.
League wins in 2010 in Parnell Park (1-21 to 1-12) and 2011 in Croke Park (1-16 to 1-15) have created the impression that Dublin have never been overwhelmed in Premier company.
Richie Stakelum, former Tipperary captain and Dublin selector throughout the four-year period in question, reminds you, however, that when it mattered most his native county weren’t found wanting.
“When they needed to get the result in the All-Ireland semi-final (in 2011), inevitably they got it,” he recalled.
Still, two wins, a draw (2012 league) and two narrow defeats (2011 All-Ireland semi-final and 2009 league) points to an altitude that Dublin appear entirely comfortable with.
It may be exactly what they don’t want to hear or read, however.
The media focus that they attracted for their progression in 2011 as league championship and All-Ireland semi-finalists was something that presented a “distraction” they had difficulty with in hindsight.
For Dublin, a spring campaign in Division 1B has been like attaching a set of blinkers to a horse.
“When you play in Division 1B, it doesn’t take long to realise that you are not going to get distracted because you won’t have people talking about you,” Stakelum admitted. “Especially the media.
“When you are not playing the Spring Series in Croke Park and when you have to go and play somewhere like Parnell Park or Casement Park on a very cold Sunday afternoon, you’re not long about recalibrating yourself and your expectations.”
For Stakelum, Dublin simply “got ahead” of themselves.
“Lads danced to a different beat and got a bit too overly concerned about the outside when we were better off just focusing on the basics and not getting carried away with other distractions – and that’s actually what happened to us,” he said.
It has been the common rhetoric used to purge themselves of such a disappointing 2012 season.
Even the management took stock of where they are and posed the question as to how much the sharp decline in 2012 had to do with them.
“There was due consideration given by all of us that we could actually make this worse by staying on,” Stakelum revealed.
“Anthony (Daly) wanted to see was he a fundamental part of the poor performance last year. Was he better off if he stepped away, if the players wanted something else?
“I think the players themselves have matured hugely over the last number of years that they have been involved.
“They are no longer 18 or 19-year-olds, some of these guys are in their mid-20s now, so there’s a level of natural maturity. They are the ones who said ‘we got ourselves into this sticky mess and we have got to get ourselves out of it.'”
The recovery has been steady without ever having to be spectacular.
They had to suffer the blow of losing one of their mainstays, Tomas Brady, to football, the disappointment of not even getting an audience with some of the county’s brightest dual players and even the defection of their physical trainer to the football set up.
“It was a matter of stripping down to the waist and getting on with it,” admitted Stakelum.
So far they’ve done what they’ve had to do – and Stakelum sees beating Limerick in the Division 1B final as one of the most important victories of Daly’s four-and-a-half-year reign.
“It was a massive victory and massive belief for us to get back into Division 1A,” he said.
“Dublin playing in 1A is a pivotal part of the whole process because we don’t have the years of experience that the Corks, Kilkennys, Galways and Tipperarys have of playing in that company for generations.
“For us to continue to improve they must be in Division 1A for as long as possible, so it was a massive result for us.”
Thus Sunday offers a “freebie”, in Stakelum’s words, the one game Dublin will play this year when real pressure is off.
It’s another chance to anchor the movable feast that has been Liam Rushe to centre-back once again where he delivered such a powerful performance against Limerick.
“That’s not the first time anyone has seen Liam perform at that level in that position. Facing the ball and anywhere up as far as 8 or 9 is his best position,” said Stakelum.
With mission accomplished for, now “bonus territory” offers them brief respite from the challenges that lie ahead.