Stephen Hiney has described half-back partner Liam Rushe as “a monster” as Dublin hurlers prepare for their third Leinster final in five years.
Rushe was a monumental presence at centre-back for the Dubs in Portlaoise last Saturday night as their defeat of All-Ireland champions Kilkenny turned the championship on its head. That result pitched Anthony Daly’s men into next Sunday’s provincial decider against Galway in which Dublin will be chasing their first Leinster senior title since 1961.
And Rushe is again expected to have a pivotal role to play, particularly if Galway elect to keep their maindangerman, Joe Canning, at half-forward.
Hiney reflected: “Liam’s a monster of a man in the centre and he’s some talent in the air as well. It’s brilliant to have that in the centre beside you.”
Dublin’s defeat of Kilkenny defied the popular perception that they’d lost their opportunity in the drawn game. The Cats had not lost a championship replay since the 1980s, but the sheer relentlessness of Dublin’s effort on Saturday finally wore Brian Cody’s men down, with Danny Sutcliffe’s 54th-minute goal crucial.
“I was nearly shouting at him to put it over the bar, but was delighted when I saw it going into the back of the net alright,” reflected Hiney. “We had good belief in ourselves, but it was 70-something years (71) since we beat Kilkenny in the championship.
“So we knew we were going to come back down for a very tough battle like the drawn game. But we were confident in our own ability and we stuck to our task, got a good performance and came away with the result.
“The important thing was we just didn’t get ahead of ourselves, didn’t look at the scoreboard, just kept playing every ball one at a time.”
For Hiney and his Ballyboden-St Enda’s clubmate Conal Keaney, Dublin’s victory represented glorious reward for the countless hours of rehab required after surgery on ruptured cruciate ligaments in 2011.
“There’s been a lot of hard work done in the last few years to try and get back into the team,” acknowledged Hiney. “Personally, I’m delighted to be back in there.
“We’ve a strong panel, with a lot of lads able to come in off the line to make a difference.”
A remarkable feature of Dublin’s replay win was the manner in which they nullified any goal threat from Kilkenny, with only Richie Power’s runs from midfield seeming to carry any danger.
“I hadn’t actually thought about that really, but that is good,” agreed Hiney.
“Gary (Maguire), I suppose, had a somewhat quiet game for us. And that’s a brilliant thing, because Kilkenny and goals … they’ve killed many a team by scoring goals at the right time. But we were solid at the back and got through it.
“We just seemed to get the little flicks when we needed to. Keeping a clean sheet was brilliant.”
While the sound of ‘Come On You Boys In Blue’ rang around O’Moore Park afterwards, the Dublin players remain mindful that – despite having four championship games played – they have not yet claimed any silver.
“We’re into a Leinster final and that’s what we need to focus on now,” reflected Hiney. “It (beating Kilkenny) will probably be hyped up in the press going into the final now, yet we still haven’t won anything.
“There’s definitely a few tired bodies there, but having a Leinster final to play does make it easier now. A bit of rest and recuperation is the key for the week, I think.
“And focusing only on what’s coming next.”
Vincent Hogan -Irish Independent