JOHNNY McGuirk, the man who hit the winning point for Dublin in the 2003 Walsh Cup final win over Kilkenny, is expecting a repeat victory in tomorrow’s big clash at Parnell Park.
McGuirk, now managing Whitehall Colmcille, retired from playing in October 2009, but is a keen Dublin follower.
His prediction? “I’ll be there willing them on, and I’d fancy Dublin. If I was a betting man I’d be putting my money on them,” he says.
The former Craobh Chiarain star — who won four Dublin championship medals with the north Dublin club, the last in 2006 as captain — was impressed by the Dubs’ display against Galway in the semi-final last Saturday night.
Dublin were reduced to 14 men when Johnny McCaffrey was sent off just before half-time, but they held on to defeat the Tribesmen and qualify for the decider.
“From what I could see, Conal Keaney, Ryan O’Dwyer and Shane Ryan are giving the team a great physical presence, and they seem to be able to pick off scores and do the physical work as well,” says McGuirk.
“And beyond that, the backs have been solid. Stephen Hiney at full-back has just got stronger and stronger, and his striking has improved. Yes, they leaked a couple of goals the other night, but that’s going to happen when you’ve a spare man playing against you.”
Casting his mind back to the 2003 final, McGuirk recalls it as one of the best performances Dublin gave in his time. He had to endure the agonies of watching as a substitute for most of the game, but once he got the call with eight minutes left, he was fired up to go.
“Great memories. Across the board, the players from one to 15 were outstanding. I got a lot of plaudits for putting the last ball over the bar, but I only came on with eight minutes to go,” he recalls.
“Kilkenny had 12 of the team that had won the All-Ireland the previous September starting that day.
“I know they probably hadn’t done a whole pile of training, but it was a big enough match for us and we didn’t fear them.
“We went out to give it a good lash and the fact it was at home added to it. As the match progressed I was eager to get on the pitch. I had been sitting it out and hadn’t got a run in the couple of matches before that, so when my name was called, I jumped the wall on to the pitch and I was ready to give it my all.
“I got the winning point and I was delighted to have done it, but really it was a great performance all round from lads like Tommy Moore and Kevin Flynn and Conal Keaney, who had a big part in that win.”
Keaney, man of the match in the 2003 final, is back and has given his full commitment to hurling.
“Keaney is an immense talent. I have hurled against him and we’ve had our battles, but I have the height of respect for him,” says McGuirk. Keaney outshone everyone on the pitch that day in ’03, but it was a huge all-round effort for the 2-11 to 2-10 win.
The Dublin goalscorers were Moore and Shane Martin; Hiney, who plays tomorrow, goalkeeper Brendan McLoughlin (a point from a penalty) and Kevin O’Donoghue put the Dubs three points clear to set up a grandstand finish.
Henry Shefflin scored an injury-time goal to level, but super-sub McGuirk clinched the match with a cracking shot from 60 metres.
McGuirk took on a new challenge last October — the Dublin Marathon. And what was that experience like?
“Mental and physical torture, but it was something I always wanted to do. And I might do it again,” he says.
Off the pitch McGuirk is grafting away with his plant and tool hire business.“There’s more to life than hurling, but I’m enjoying the managing side of it at Whitehall Colmcille. And it’s great to see the hurlers will be on the big double-bill series at Croke Park in the league.
“Hurling has always been the poor relation in Dublin, but that’s changing.
“You can see the crowds starting to come to the hurling. More people in Dublin need to give the respect to hurling that they give to football,” he says.
– Liam Kelly