Monday, December 30, 2013
It’s been a bittersweet year for Anthony Daly.
Sweet because of Clare’s All-Ireland win this year, the county’s first since he captained them to success in ’95 and again in ’97. Bitter because Dublin, the team in which Anthony has invested so much of himself over the last five years, came so close to All-Ireland glory, beaten in controversial circumstances in the semi-final by Cork.
“The way it all turned out for us [Dublin], devastated not to even make the All-Ireland final, we felt we were good enough,” he says.
“It was a strange kind of a feeling then going up to Croke Park for the final the first day. You’re thinking ‘what if’ for the replay, with the three weeks break, I was able to relax and enjoy the win, soak it up, a thrilling game to watch.”
They had plenty of reason to be devastated, Dublin, plenty of what ifs. What if Ryan O’Dwyer, having the game of his life against Cork in the semi-final, hadn’t been sent off? What if Patrick Horgan hadn’t shown that touch of genius for Cork’s late goal? What if someone had managed to get in a flick, touched that ball away from danger? Because as Anthony says, Dublin were good enough this year, had been gradually building to what would have been a season of seasons.
“We did win the first Leinster title for Dublin since 1961, and with an almost entirely Dublin-born team as opposed to the teams that were winning for Dublin before 1961,” he said.
“We often spoke of winning the Bob O’Keeffe Cup, it was a major goal for this team and we had an absolutely magical five weeks leading up to that success, a magical five weeks afterwards where we enjoyed being Leinster champions, tried to focus on getting ourselves ready for the All-Ireland semi-final. Dublin hurling is definitely coming on every year.
“It’s been a long-term project since the development squads were first put in place 15 years ago and winning a Leinster senior title is another step along that journey. To see Hill 16 nearly full for the hurlers, the support we got. It was there too in the semi-final, the outpouring of joy after we finally beat Kilkenny in the championship, and in a replay at that.
“After the drawn game I went back to Clarecastle and Clare were after losing heavily to Cork in the Munster semi-final. I went into Powers for a pint and it was all doom and gloom, fellas looking at me and saying ‘Jaysus ye had them, ye’ll never get a second chance to beat that crowd!’ But we did it, the following Saturday evening, and to do it in Portlaoise where fellas said we had no chance, that the pitch was too small for us to get away from them.
“To come out of Division 1B too, at the first time of asking [relegated at the end of last year], we were delighted with that, plus we won the Walsh Cup. We ended the year winning as many All Star awards as Cork [three] but we wound up with three trophies [Walsh Cup, Division 1B league, Leinster title], Cork wound up with none.
“Seems there’s only one trophy really that people seem to consider worthy of any consideration, the MacCarthy Cup. For us though, all those things add up, doing the things all year that people said we wouldn’t be able to do. Disappointing alright how it finished. It was a rash decision by the referee to give Ryan O’Dwyer a yellow card early on. He was playing so well it forced our hand, we couldn’t take him off; he was dominating the game, Cork couldn’t cope with him after half-time and I feel we’d have gone on to win the game if he hadn’t been sent off.
“But who knows? It’s only speculation now. Yes we were devastated afterwards, bitterly disappointed, but looking back there is a sense of achievement also, of satisfaction, because we did make progress. We’d have loved to have reached the final, see how we’d have fared out, but overall I’d say it was a successful year for us.”
There has been much talk of Clare’s new style this year, of the science they brought to hurling both on and off the field. Can he see all that catching on?
“I sneaked into Cusack Park to see the Laois match [All-Ireland qualifier], made myself as anonymous as I could with a woolly hat and all that. Clare scored a phenomenal total that day, 1-32, every player scored except Domhnall O’Donovan but even then you had people in the crowd going ‘Ah this is shit hurling to watch!’ I had a little laugh to myself.
“If it hadn’t been for the players buying into that system, Clare wouldn’t have won that All-Ireland, they wouldn’t have got that equalising point in the drawn game. Nickey O’Connell won the puckout and on other days, with other teams, he’d have just tried to bate it forward. He didn’t, he used his head, stayed cool, passed it to Domhnall O’Donovan who got the point.”
So will Dublin now adopt and adapt that style, the Clare training methods? In a word, no.
“If you win, of if you play well, everything is right; if you lose, even by a late point, everything is wrong.
“I remember Tomas Ó Sé saying to me that if you won an All-Ireland and said you were set-dancing twice a week, everyone would be set-dancing twice a week the following year. Fellas are fascinated by what the winning team did. I have a theory, the 90/10 theory; to me 90% of it is a fella willing to stick up his hand, or be bold enough to go out to the ball and be man enough to make big decisions at crucial times, like Domhnall O’Donovan did to draw the All-Ireland final.
“You can talk all you like about what Clare are doing, the great progress, the way to go, but if Brian Gavin had blown the final whistle after Patrick Horgan got the lead point for Cork in the drawn game we’d be talking about Cork today, the great advances they’ve made, the genius of Jimmy Barry-Murphy and what he does, the legend he has created.
“What Domhnall did, that’s in the 90% zone and if you allow the 10% to take over, you’re in trouble. Do everything you can to maximise the 10% but the 90% is still your bread and butter in hurling. The fella who tells me the 10% has taken over, that science now dominates, has taken over from the head, the heart, the guts, the testicles — he’s wrong.”
What now though for Dublin, what of 2014? The only thing certain, reckons Anthony, is that following on the year we’ve just had, nothing is certain.
“I remember coming out of the league final between Kilkenny and Tipperary, I had been working for RTÉ radio, and I was driving home. I was trying to get updates on how Clarecastle had got on in the U21s and one of the lads said to me, ‘Sure they might as well play the All-Ireland final in a month between the same two teams, spare us everything else over the summer!’
“He was wrong, wasn’t he, so much happened after that! Now everyone thinks they have a chance. Cork made great progress this year; Wexford will be looking back and thinking ‘We drew with the Leinster champions [Dublin] and we drew with the All-Ireland champions [Clare, went to extra-time], why can’t we kick on?’
“In Offaly, their greatest-ever player, Brian Whelehan, is now in charge, they’ll be looking to progress and remember, they scored four goals against Kilkenny. Waterford have a new manager also, in Derek McGrath, and I know they’re going to have a very professional setup, I’d say the enthusiasm is there already. You’ll have a kick-back in Kilkenny, in Tipperary and in Galway; Limerick are reigning Munster champions, a new manager also in TJ Ryan, Donal O’Grady back with them; we’ll be out to defend our Leinster title with all our might; Clare are worthy All-Ireland champions and back-to-back U21 champions. It’s the makings of a great year again.”
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