It hasn’t been the easiest week for the Dublin U21 hurling management but sure, all’s well that ends well, and all that.
It began with the potentially mortal blow of losing first choice centre-back, Rory O’Carroll, due to the proximity of last night’s match to Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC qualifier clash between Dublin and Armagh — the Kilmacud Crokes man not permitted to serve two masters this week.
Dublin U21 boss, Richie Stakelum, a near neighbour and hurling mentor of all three of the O’Carroll brothers (Ross, Rory, Bill) had to make do with his defensive tyro but the collective acceptance of extra responsibilities from the players who did line out in Parnell Park was a cause for satisfaction.
“It was an awful blow,” Stakelum admitted after last night’s victory.
“We had worked very hard on it. We thought we had worked very closely with the footballers on it. We had never put any pressure on Rory, we had never put any pressure on the footballers to release him. We worked around that.
“I know Rory since he was a child. I had kept in close touch with Rory since the start of the year. We had it all worked out. He wanted to play. Obviously, events took a line of their own. We talked about it and we put it to bed very quickly. But it obviously gave an extra edge to the players and we got a result.”
For most of last night, Dublin played like a team with a heap of pressure forcing them down but, more importantly, conducted themselves like a group of hurlers with steel and character coursing through their young veins.
“At under-21 level, there’s so many things that can go wrong in a fella’s head,” explained Stakelum. “This whole thing with us having beaten Kilkenny, no matter how much you try and dampen it down … we tried our best.
“But Wexford came in in the perfect position. They really put it up to us. But once we got the goal, we looked much more comfortable.”
It bodes well for Dublin that on a night when they were forced to grind and batter their way to victory, it was some of the lesser known lights who took responsibility.
None more so than St Brigid’s forward, Daire Plunkett. TG4 awarded their man of the match gong to Peter Kelly but by our estimation, no man in a Dublin shirt had as much influence on the result as Plunkett.
A constant if under-nourished menace in the first half, Plunkett stuck to his guns and garnished a zealous performance with a tally of 1-3, his goal representing the most important score of the match.
“I think Daire Plunkett was just immense,” Stakelum reckoned. “He was brilliant all the way through.
“For a young fella who, at the start of the year, was just a bit player. He just has a ferocious engine. Once he got a belief into him there tonight … some of things he did there tonight and to have to the balls to play the way he played, he was just superb.”
Those players cohabiting the senior and under-21 panels have little time for reflection or celebration due to Saturday’s looming All-Ireland qualifier with Antrim in Croke Park but as a group, and for Dublin as a county, there are four weeks to burn before an All-Ireland semi-final date with Galway.
“Galway have always come through with good underage teams,” Stakelum offered.
“That’s an enormous game for us. But after winning a Leinster title, that will give our lads a lot of confidence.
“We have a good team. There’s a lot of good players on that team. Some of our really, really good players can play a bit better than they did tonight and please God, we will have Rory,” he concluded.
– Conor McKeon – Evening Herald