Anthony Daly, was “drinking tea in the kitchen” on Monday morning when the, as yet incomplete, draw for Phase 2 of the All-Ireland SHC Qualifiers took place.
“If I got a pound for all the people that said ‘pity’ to me,” he told the Herald this week. “Texts on Monday: ‘pity’, ‘pity’, ‘pity’. Sure, I’m not thinking that way. I’m really enjoying the season and I think all the lads are enjoying the season.”
The implication contained within the pity offerings being that Dublin, rather than Kilkenny, are about to firm up the hurling fixture list by dropping into the Qualifiers on Saturday by fulfiling their clichéd role of the underdog who couldn’t bite quite hard enough the first day and who, dutifully, will take their beating in the replay tomorrow evening in Portlaoise.
Thereafter, Tipperary will – if the rite of passage is followed closely enough – use Dublin to recalibrate their shooting, sending the Dubs out with the rest of the hurling riff-raff, before the Premier rejoin the quest for Liam MacCarthy, mid-stride.
“Most of those guys were National League champions this time two years ago or were in the All-Ireland semi-final less than two years ago,” Daly points out, decidedly less shocked by Dublin’s performance in drawing with Kilkenny last Sunday than everyone else. “They’re ambitious lads. Yes, we had a bad season last year.
“But so far this year, most things that were put up in front of us that we wanted to do well in, we did. The league semi-final being the blip along the way and even at that, we would have our theories on the way that happened.” Yet flowing sentiments that Sunday was Dublin’s best performance under Daly are rejected too. “I don’t think it was,” he asserts. “Watching the tape again, there was an awful lot of mistakes. We need to cut down on those. You won’t eradicate them completely, but you need to cut down on them. No, certainly we have played better in the past, but we’re improving.”
Still, the significance of the match and the identity of the opposition would dictate that the performance, while not always the most polished, was hugely impressive. Against that, Daly and Dublin seemed less pre-occupied with the symbolism of the result than they are with its brass tacks and practical implications.
“If we went off into those tangents, we would be going nowhere. And you can be sure that if you did think like that and you do win, you won’t be winning the Leinster final,” he explains.
“We’re just trying to tinker with the way the lads are thinking and get back to where we were two years ago. For us, it’s not about the other team. That’s what Kilkenny have done to teams year after year. Everyone has been so caught up in them, but they have just concentrated on themselves and got the best out of themselves and teams haven’t been able to cope.”
Notably, tomorrow’s duel will be Dublin’s fourth championship match in four weekends or, to be more specific, their fourth major battle in 21 days.
Which is why on Wednesday night, when all 32 players in Daly’s squad took a full part in training, he was effusive in his praise for his medical team and trainer, Ross Dunphy.
Conal Keaney was the only player to come away from Portlaoise with a significant knock and even fears over his health were allayed by Monday evening when the finger injury he picked up transpired to be nothing serious enough to affect his participation in training.
“Overall, there were an awful lot of positives in it,” Daly says of the day, which almost became the greatest for Dublin hurling in over 70 years.
“A little bit sloppy at times but so were Kilkenny. There is no doubt that Kilkenny will improve so we must improve as well. And there is definitely room for improvement with us. Funnily enough, both teams seemed to struggle with the wind in terms of using the ball, we didn’t do it so well and they didn’t do it so well so … I think hopefully, the weather is supposed to be a good bit better for the weekend so … look, it will probably be a warmer, dryer night.
“The wind kind of ruins hurling a bit,” he adds. “But there was great intensity in the match. There was great work-rate and you would be awful proud about the lads and the way they went about it.
“But it is no use being proud … we have got to go at it again and just get the best out of ourselves again. That wasn’t quite our best, I’d say. We need to get a bit more because we know Kilkenny will be better. That’s our challenge now,” Daly concludes.