Win puts Daly’s men in bonus territory as Sky Blues make first semi for 63 years
DUBLIN hurlers have turned history-making into an art form this season, and now – after yesterday’s nail-chewing victory over Limerick – comes the hysteria of an All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary.
The glass-half-empty pessimists will gulp at the thought of facing a team of gung-ho champions who hammered seven goals in their last outing. But Dublin, under Anthony Daly, don’t do half-empty. No matter what happens in that August 14 showdown, the Sky Blues are now entering bonus territory.
They’ve already won a first National League Division 1 title in 72 years. Now they’ve qualified for a first All-Ireland semi-final appearance since 1948.
Along the way they’ve survived a litany of injuries that would have broken the resolve of lesser teams. Conal Keaney’s motorcycling mishap was but the latest, albeit potentially most serious, in a sequence of setbacks that have robbed Daly of his captain, his first-choice full-back, and now his prodigal talisman.
Dublin missed Keaney’s ball-winning brio against Limerick yesterday but they survived, just about. They will arguably miss him more against Tipp. But Dublin’s collective success this season has been forged, at least partly, on a mental strength that allows them to rise above such individual traumas. “They’re good lads. The first thing you look for in any team or sportsman is character – and these lads have buckets of character. How would you work with lads unless they were oozing with that?” Daly rhetorically wondered. They have some class, too, and two players who underlined their proven pedigree in Thurles were Ryan O’Dwyer and Liam Rushe.
O’Dwyer had a point to prove after his ‘red mist’ moment against Galway in June reduced him to the role of a frustrated hurleycarrier for the Leinster final against Kilkenny. He proved that point with goals – three of them inside 24 minutes.
Rushe played in that Leinster final but, in common with many of his team-mates, didn’t enjoy his finest hour. Palmerstown’s Mr Versatile more than compensated here, taking the first-half fight to Limerick with some masterful ball-winning and score-creation in his latest wing-forward incarnation. His manager subsequently revealed that Rushe had been earmarked for centre-back duties before Keaney’s accident forced an 11th hour reshuffle, with Michael Carton promoted at wing-back for his first start this summer.
Joey Boland duly stayed in the centre of defence but endured a torrid opening against Limerick’s teenage scoring sensation, Declan Hannon.
To his credit, Boland didn’t let his head drop and finished the game strongly – Dublin fans must hope that their injury-blighted No 6 will benefit from completing his first full 70 minutes since late March.
The irony is that, even while O’Dwyer was plundering his three goals (after five, 11 and 24 minutes), Limerick were giving the Dublin defence plenty of fraught moments at the far end. Hannon led the early onslaught with three points from play inside the opening quarter – he would finish with 0-11, five from play. But while the Dublin half-backs came under the cosh, the full-back line generally held its own.
Niall Corcoran defended his corner stoutly. For the third game running, Peter Kelly belied the notion that, just because he isn’t a natural full-back, he can’t play the position quite brilliantly at times. Paul Schutte, promoted ahead of his Cuala club-mate Oisín Gough for his first SFC start, also enjoyed a solid first half but a few errors crept into his game during a fraught fourth quarter.
On the few occasions Limerick threatened a goal, however, Gary Maguire held firm to deny Seán Tobin (23 minutes) and Kevin Downes (around the hour mark). Almost straight after Maguire’s save from Tobin, O’Dwyer hassled Brian Geary into a hapless turnover, David O’Callaghan found himself through on goal and, when his shot was saved by Nicky Quaid, O’Dwyer was on hand to rifle home the rebound. ROUTINE Hat-trick duly completed, Dublin led by three clear goals and a relatively routine victory beckoned.
But their intensity dropped alarmingly either side of the interval – cue four unanswered points to leave the half-time score reading 3-6 to 0-10, with another rapid trio of Limerick points on the resumption. The gap was cut to just two points and, while Limerick couldn’t get any closer, Dublin were never once able to relax either. The game’s pivotal period came beyond the hour-mark when Gavin O’Mahoney landed an inspirational touchline free from halfway. The gap was reduced to a brace once more, and the sizeable Limerick support in a 33,535 crowd was starting to believe a repeat of 2009 loomed large. But Limerick failed to score again, shooting five costly wides from the 63rd minute – three alone in a rapid-fire burst before O’Dwyer lifted the siege with a brilliant point after 65 minutes.
There soon followed a lengthy hold-up as O’Dwyer was treated for a nasty head injury and eventually stretchered off. Defeated boss Donal O’Grady afterwards lamented that this hold-up killed their momentum and “there was no way back for us”. The last scoring salvo came from late substitute Shane Ryan and, with a four-point cushion, Dublin finally appeared safe. Roll on the All-Ireland champions