THE DAMNEDEST thing happens when you concertina the league to six teams per division. The gap between success and failure gets all the air squeezed out of it, so much so the distance between being defending champions and fighting relegation is laughably small. Last spring, Dublin drew with Kilkenny and beat Tipp and Cork by a point. This spring, they drew with Tipp and lost to Kilkenny and Cork by a point.
Six games, four teams, barely the width of a gnat’s knee to separate them.
Add up Dublin’s for and against columns in the six games and the final totals match exactly, yet what last year took them to the league final this year has them bottom of Division 1A and in a relegation play-off. Just because the table doesn’t lie doesn’t mean it tells the whole truth.
That’s why Liam Rushe isn’t outwardly sweating on Dublin’s form coming into tomorrow’s play-off against Galway in Tullamore. “You’re talking very fine margins,” he offers.
“Our problem has been taking the foot off the pedal after building up three- four- and five-point leads with 20 minutes to go. We’ve thrown games away when they were there to be won. We’ve managed to get the lead and looked like we’ve been cruising but haven’t got it done.
“The last day against Tipp, once [David] Treacy got the goal we were four points up and it just led to us easing off a bit. They took their opportunities and before we knew it we were three points down and desperate for a score. But it’s just something to work on for championship. It’s better to do it now than in the summer.”
Rushe spent the winter nursing a broken hand that had taken timber as far back as the county final on October 31st. He has no problem remembering the date because by the end it felt like he was chalking off the days on a cell wall. A broken hand should be no biggie but this one took the guts of four months to sort out. You can take it he wasn’t best pleased.
“It was misdiagnosed and never dealt with properly,” he says. “I went to the hospital with it and they said it wasn’t broken but I still couldn’t pick up a hurl in January. After two months of no improvement, we went back and got an MRI on it and sure enough, it turned out it was broken. I didn’t get back playing until the second Fitzgibbon Cup game, which was in February. I wasn’t happy at all. They somehow managed to miss it even though they had two X-rays of it. They just said there was no break in it and I took them at their word.”
The one upside of the misdiagnosis was he wasn’t lumbered with a cast that would have prevented him doing pre-Christmas exams – he’s in the final year of a law and history degree in UCD. It would have been August by the time he eventually got to do them and he intends being pretty busy come that time of year.
In the end, he made it back in time for the start of the league but with Dublin he walked into the threshing machine against Galway that first day. He concedes now that Galway went for every ball like they meant it; Dublin tried to ease their way into the year and got found out.
“We promised afterwards that wouldn’t happen again and in fairness to us, we’ve contended in the games ever since. Sunday is obviously important and of course we’re going out to win it because nobody wants to be relegated.
“But while you don’t want to say it wouldn’t be the biggest deal in the world if we lost, we’re going out to put in a performance and we know Galway are going to come all guns blazing.
“It will be a championship-style game and more intense than a league semi-final, probably. The performance is what matters to us. Obviously, we want to stay in the top division and be playing the Tipps and Kilkennys and Corks next year but the second tier has some serious teams in it and it isn’t in the doldrums it used to be. It wouldn’t be the disaster it once was if we went down.” When you put down two broadly similar campaigns with two wildly differing outcomes, performances become all you can trust anymore.
Macachy Clerkin – Irish Times