Anthony Daly is congratulated by Richie Stakelum. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
RICHIE STAKELUM is adamant: there was no moment of self-doubt on the long journey home from Wexford Park on June 8. The Dublin management still believed the talent was bottled up inside – it was a matter of uncorking the gung-ho genie that had propelled Dublin to a league title and an All-Ireland semi-final in 2011.
Still, those two short years seemed like light years away to the watching public. Anthony Daly’s men were frantically fumbling in the dark, searching for that elusive light switch that would illuminate their summer.
One month later and Dublin hurlers are revelling in the spotlight of a breakthrough Leinster title.
Last Sunday’s rollicking 12-point defeat of Galway constituted not just an historic landmark but also a potential signpost to even brighter days ahead. Four-and-a-half years into Dublin’s ‘Dalo Project’, this was their most compelling performance.
But after four years and five months, few people saw this coming – surely management didn’t either? In the wake of Sunday’s triumph, The Herald asked Stakelum if he was assailed by any doubts on the trek back home after their quarter-final stalemate with Wexford and the Sky Blues selector was emphatic.
“There were no doubts,” the Tipp native insisted. “All we were saying at that stage was … we put it up the players that they hadn’t performed. In effect, I think (Ger) Loughnane used the word ‘constipated hurling’ and that’s exactly what it was. They were playing with fear. They weren’t prepared to cut loose and have a go.
“Michael Carton was the one player that evening who decided ‘Feck this’ … (he) stepped up the field and banged over a point. And that set a tone, and we talked about that and said, ‘Look it, that’s where we want you to play. Step out of yourselves and go and feckin’ be the hurlers that ye can be!’
“Now, as it turned out, I think the games stood to us. So you get on this roll. And, where in other years we haven’t been so lucky, we’ve avoided injuries. And we’ve emerged again, touch wood, without any injury.” Stakelum knows all about leading counties out of the provincial wilderness – he’d be a rich man if paid even a minimum royalty for every media rehashing of his “famine is over” acceptance speech as Tipperary captain in 1987. But this was was no 16-year hiatus; it was a 52-year lifetime.
You suspect that what pleased him almost as much as the result was the swashbuckling manner of its deliverance. He was enthused by how they “played with great freedom”; how they abided by Daly’s oft-repeated mantra, “go to the ball”, adding: “You saw Conal Keaney give two or three examples of coming to a ball he had no right to win.”
Another Tipp man, Tommy Dunne, had been brought on board recently for some extra coaching tuition.
As Stakelum explains: “Tommy’s role is to say to guys: ‘Look it, just go and show the players that ye are.’ And it echoes Anthony’s word. It’s very important that you have a consistent message. There’s no point in Tommy coming up and doing a great session with a completely different message to what we’re saying. But Tommy’s on the same wavelength as ourselves, which is ‘step out to the ball’.
“But what Tommy also talked about is that on the big stage, you have to have composure as well. There’s no point in stepping out to the ball and just lumping it down the field.
“So we did show that composure and we got some scores (against Galway) where we were very composed and stayed to the plan. Yeah, we made mistakes but … you know, 2-25 is okay.”
As they kicked for home in the closing minutes, three of their last six unanswered points came from substitutes, with replacements twice delivering the assist. The ’20-man game’ may be the GAA’s most overused cliche but Dublin have proved its veracity time and again in recent weeks.
“If you look at the way we play,” says Stakelum, “we play with such a high tempo. We may not have the most skilful players, but we have players that are prepared to absolutely die for the cause. The panel and the players know that themselves – that we will be using 20 every day. That’s a guarantee.”
What isn’t guaranteed is how Dublin will handle the change over from weekly battle to a five-week break before their All-Ireland semi-final.
“That, I suppose, is where we’ll have to come into our own and we’ll have to manage that space. We’ll talk about it, but we’ll take a week off. Jesus, we need a week off ourselves! We might go to Willie Clancy for a few days!” Stakelum jests.
“But it’s five weeks and I think the bodies will need to recover. We need to sit with (physical trainer) Ross Dunphy now and decide what’s the best way to approach this. Is it that you top up this week and give them a week off the following week? We’ll have to look at that. But, you know, it’s a great place to be.”
Frank Roche – Evening Herald