SO you reckon the Dublin hurlers – shackled by a recurring history of failure and subsequently hamstrung by multiple injuries – punched way above their weight last season?
That in winning a first National Hurling League title in 72 years, and then reaching a first All-Ireland semi-final since 1948, they achieved above and beyond what even Anthony Daly could have demanded?
Then, clearly, you haven’t been talking to Ryan O’Dwyer lately.
The Tipp native who made such a seamless transition into Sky Blue last year doesn’t subscribe to this notion of accepting second best. Any serious county, he maintains, should be setting the bar as high as it goes — all the way up to Liam MacCarthy.
Now he fully expects Dublin’s Allianz League campaign, starting with Sunday’s tricky trip west to face a Galway team smarting for revenge, to be made even more demanding by the aforementioned success of 2011. Equally, you suspect, that’s how he wants it.
“The element of surprise will be gone,” he accepts, “and also everyone will want to take Dublin down a peg or two. Just because a lot of people see it that ‘Oh, Dublin over-achieved last year, they won the league and they shouldn’t have’.
“Now as far as I’m concerned, we under-achieved,” O’Dwyer clarifies. “As far as I’m concerned, we wanted to win an All-Ireland.
“That should be everyone’s aim at the start of the year, no matter what county you are. But certain people want to take us down a peg or two, and you wouldn’t blame them either.”
Dublin’s prospects of winning back-to-back league titles may have well been rendered more difficult by the top-flight’s new format, with six teams in Division 1A.
“For the six teams in the league, nothing is going to be easy,” the 25-year-old warns. “You are going to have to win every game just to survive, because there is no weak team. In previous years, before the league format was changed, you were looking at one or two matches, saying, ‘That’s the match that will keep us up’ or whatever. It was a bad way to look at it, but everyone would. This year there is no weak team and it’s going to drive the standard up, definitely.”
O’Dwyer is one of those effusive characters who talks hurling with the same all-action gusto with which he plays. He doesn’t strip-search every word before releasing it for public consumption. Clearly, too, his disposition is glass half-full, never half-empty.
So when you ask him about his previous bittersweet encounter with Galway — a Leinster semi-final last June — he replies: “I’d have a few bad memories but, look, you get on with them. As far as I’m concerned, we won the match — that was the most important thing.
“After that, I could look at the negatives and say ‘Oh, I got sent off’ but I’m looking at the positives and saying it was a good thing I got sent off because it’s after teaching me a lesson — to say right, that’s not going to happen again. As far as I’m concerned, it was a harsh lesson, but a worthwhile lesson.”
By the same token, shedding blood doesn’t faze O’Dwyer in the slightest — after all, it was a recurring theme of his debut season with the Dubs, epitomised by the All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick last July. Just back from his Leinster final suspension, he scored a first-half hat-trick of goals, then a critical late point, before shipping a blow to the head and being stretchered off, dazed and confused, his shirt spattered in red.
His most recent war wound, for once, didn’t entail any blood.
“The toughest (pre-season) match we actually played was a game out in Castleknock, 15 against 15, between ourselves. That game definitely drew the most blood anyway! And the most black eyes!” he laughs.
“I got a black eye out of it, for a change, but the preparation is going well. Our physical trainer, Martin Kennedy, has us primed between gym work, running work, ball work, everything.
“They definitely have us primed, and we’re hopefully going to hit the ground running when we hit Salthill.”
Kennedy, no more than O’Dwyer, was a vital addition to ‘Team Daly’ in 2011, and this was reflected in their ability to match the physicality of the elite teams.
“Last year, everyone said the standards came up. And I thought the standard was great, the standard of training and the professionalism was brilliant,” says the Kilmacud clubman.
“This year, it’s after stepping up again. He’s demanding more of himself and more of us, and I think the best part about Martin Kennedy is he always wants to learn. He doesn’t know it all and he’ll admit that himself, and after a training session he’d say how could I do that better?
“Even if it went brilliantly.
“We’re all sticking to our gym programme. I know previously, before I joined Dublin … I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but you’d be given a gym programme and you’d do it for two weeks and then you’d get sick of it.
“But certainly with Martin Kennedy, we’re sticking to it, every one of us. It’s like a religion,” he confides. “There is never two sessions the same in-a-row … you don’t even know you’re doing the work because you’re enjoying it.”
– Frank Roche, Evening Herald