With just one full season under his belt, it’s a little incongruous to hear Eoghan O’Donnell talk of Dublin’s emerging “young” hurling talent.
O’Donnell has just turned 21 and only made his senior Dublin debut 12 months ago but at the launch of an AIG home insurance offer, he’s busy lauding Dublin’s next wave, several of whom are likely to get their first taste of league action this weekend.
It’s hardly an ideal scenario for Dublin given that All-Ireland champions Tipperary are in town on Saturday night but that’s the reality facing manager Ger Cunningham.
With several of the panel’s more experienced players moving on or being moved on, and the considerable Cuala contingent marked absent until after their interest in the club championship is over, Dublin must give youth its fling in Croke Park.
“You have to give the young lads a chance and they’ll either take it with both hands or someone else will be ready to step in and take their place,” said the Whitehall Colmcille clubman.
“There are so many young hurlers coming through we are delighted with and we can’t wait to see who stands up and takes their chance. There are 15 jerseys there and we’ll have 15 players to take them so we are looking forward to it.
“It’s not something you can easily prepare for, you are thrown in at the deep end and most of the time you swim. Lads have been playing at the highest level most of the time all the way up and this is no different. They have got to this age now and there’s no reason why they won’t be able to do it at this age either.” As it happens, O’Donnell had a similar baptism to the one the new Dubs will face this weekend as his first league start came in the league clash against Tipp in Semple Stadium.
“Funnily enough, my first league game was against Tipperary too in Thurles, it was a soaking wet day and it’s an intimidating place to go as a hurler against Tipperary but it went ok. You just get on with it. There is never going to be the ideal time for you to make a debut so you just get on with it and you trust the players around you to pull you through.”
Established players like Chris Crummey, Liam Rushe, Ryan O’Dwyer, Chris Barrett and Gary Maguire will likely be dotted around the field where they’ll be flanked by the new faces.
There’s a chance that Dublin could have a league debutant in every line, depending on how Cunningham decides to use his resources. Some of the new faces, like Donal Burke, are just out of minor but the Na Fianna man has impressed with his performances in the Walsh Cup.
“You can only go on what you have seen so far and he has played very well in the Walsh Cup and he’s taking the frees which is a lot of pressure but he seems to be dealing with that alright,” adds O’Donnell.
“He seems well able for it and he is well able to talk in the dressing room and he seems to be a huge prospect coming through.”
Dublin endured a turbulent winter off-field as more of the team Anthony Daly built departed the scene but O’Donnell insists that change was inevitable.
“It can only bring you closer, that kind of thing. It is natural that county teams change over the years. Dublin is no different.
“A lot of young lads have come through, they haven’t known any different in the set-up. They are just buying completely into what we are showing them. It has been brilliant, the enthusiasm. When you are younger all you do is dream of playing for Dublin.
“And for a lot of people this is their first chance, so they are absolutely gunning for it. They are delighted to be there, it is a hard thing to recreate that energy. It is brilliant, it has been very enjoyable so far.”
Dublin have already been installed as favourites for the drop from the division but O’Donnell isn’t worried about that.
“We wouldn’t really be conscious of it to be honest. Every team is so competitive in this league that we can only take it one game at a time. We haven’t talked about quarter-finals or relegations or anything like that.
“Tipperary has been the focus so far. Once we get over that, we will play whoever is next. I think you can get caught up thinking about relegation or we have to win these games or you have to beat these teams. I know it is a cliché, but you just have to take each game as it comes. That is really the best thing.”