2 May 2014 12:00 AM
SO the Munster SHC begins on Sunday and thus officially, the season-after-the-greatest-of-all-time commences.
Clearly, all has changed.
And no-one should even feign even mild surprise at any outcome this year, such was the level and regularity of upheaval in 2013.
So what’s different about Dublin, surely the most settled and yes, even one of the older teams now amongst an expanded elite?
For a start, says Ryan O’Dwyer, there’s Colm Cronin.
At the start of this year, he, Cian O’Callaghan, Seánie McClelland and Paul Winters were all brought aboard. Yet it is Cronin, undoubtedly, who has seized the initiative, playing at both midfield and attack, scoring goals against Clare and Tipperary and perhaps then, breaking into a team which has been notable these past four years for its consistent composition.
“The one thing I love about him is…you can have your fitness and you can have your hurling, but he’s just so open,” O’Dwyer explains.
“He always wants to learn and he’s like a sponge.
“He’s actually asking you questions about what to do in certain situations. I’d be looking at him – why are you asking me, I don’t even know that myself!’
“He always wants to learn and it shows in the way he plays – he’s relentless. He’s great, phenomenal.”
“He’s certainly put his hand on a jersey and he’s taken it and it’ll be some man to take it away from him now.”
Then there’s Danny Sutcliffe.
Yes, this is the St Jude’s man third season in blue but for an accurate definition of the word meteoric’ his own performance graph is probably a good illustration.
O’Dwyer’s admiration is total.
“To be honest, I didn’t think it would happen so fast but I think he’s the best hurler in the country now,” he says without batting so much as an eyelid.
“That’s just my opinion and I’m sure other people will have theirs.
“He’s very similar to Cronin in so far as he never stops working but also he wants to learn the whole time.
“He is always figuring out new ways that will get him that one per cent extra and better than the opposition.”
For all that, a year ago Dublin arrived to their first summer joust less settled than now.
Conal Keaney began the Wexford match at centre-back. Liam Rushe, who would later win the centre-back All Star, started at number five.
“You won’t get any success if you don’t try new things,” suggests O’Dwyer.
“Dalo tried sometthing that day and we were lucky to get out of Wexford Park.”
“We probably should have been beaten but we re-assessed and re-evaluated and changed things around.”
“If you stay the whole time in the same routine, people will figure you out.”
That Dublin are reigning Leinster champions is another new departure but that, according to O’Dwyer, is for others to consider.
“I think people outside the panel are looking at us differently,” he suggests.
“We still feel we have a point to prove. We still feel that have to prove it to ourselves more than anything.
“We had a couple of weeks off and went back to the clubs.
“Dalo even said a couple of years ago that if there was no collective training and he let us back to the clubs that the standard would have dropped when lads came back.
“But he said he can do that now because we’re more mature. We’re just rearing to go and can see the bigger picture.”
Collectively then, they’ve grown up, a trait O’Dwyer sees right throughout their organisation.
“Dalo has certainly evolved over time. So have the selectors. So have the players.
“If you look at back over the years, thinking of a few situations now, we were fairly immature as a bunch.
“But we’re after maturing an awful lot. And management with that.”
Time was, O’Dwyer spent this part of the year dreaming – and yes, talking – about his plans to win the All-Ireland.
That he has tempered somewhat is probably one of the signs of the aforementioned maturity, but that hasn’t dimmed his ambition any.
He’s just not as inclined to spell it out.
“No, to be honest, I’d say we all have a goal in mind,” he admits.
“But we can’t look past the 14th – that’s my goal.
“I think that was our problem there two years ago, when we got relegated in the League and got the shite bet out of us by Kilkenny.
“I was looking at the top of the mountain rather than looking at the first climb,” he adds.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s either going to be Wexford or Laois/Antrim.
“It’s going to be any of the three of them. And we can’t look past that. Because if we do, we’ll suffer,” O’Dwyer concludes.
“We can’t take any of them for granted. That’s all we’re looking at, at the moment.”