FOR those who reckon Dublin have spent the past month high-fiving each other for creating hurling league history, we recommend a few minutes in the company of Liam Rushe.
The play-anywhere prodigy from St Pat’s of Palmerstown doesn’t, for one moment, embrace the theory that Dublin have ‘arrived’.
“That was league, this is championship” could well be his mantra ahead of Sunday’s Leinster SHC opener against Offaly at Croke Park. Last summer, he reminds you, was a “disaster” – no surprises there, given how it all tapered off so disastrously.
More intriguingly, neither was Rushe swayed by the platitudes that greeted Dublin’s ‘breakthrough’ summer of 2009, when a first Leinster final appearance in 18 years was followed by deflating defeat by Limerick in an eminently winnable All- Ireland quarterfinal at Thurles.
Anthony Daly, you suspect, would welcome Rushe’s straight-talking ways because he’s sure to have been preaching much the same message since the agony of Antrim last July.
“Last year was a disaster really, the same as the year before against Limerick. We’ve really let ourselves down in the championship and we need to produce a good run this year,” he declares bluntly.
“Personally I thought that was a massive opportunity to get over Limerick and get to an All- Ireland semi-final. Really, to be honest, we’ve been kind of underperforming in the championship. I think maybe this year we’ve got the focus right.”
That one word – focus – popped up more than once in yesterday’s conversation at Croke Park, where Rushe was attending the launch of the Bord Gáis U21 hurling championship in his role as Dublin U21 captain.
He hesitates when asked if the Dublin seniors are playing with more confidence than last season.
“It’s not so much a confidence as more a better focus,” he replies. “Clearly, we have learned from the experiences of the past two years and we are maturing. We probably had the calibre of players to do what we’re doing now, over the last two years – but we weren’t right, we weren’t focused, we weren’t 100 per cent, we hadn’t worked on every aspect of the game.
“This year I think everything’s just coming together. “We are gaining confidence from that, but it’s more of a determination than a confidence – a determination to put the past behind us.”
There is another more tangible difference too: “It’s just the strength in depth and the options (we have) now,” he explains.
As Rushe sifts through the forward line that finished out Dublin’s epic league campaign, he name-checks five players who weren’t regulars in 2010: Conal Keaney (reclaimed from the Dublin footballers), Ryan O’Dwyer (captured from Tipp), Conor McCormack, Paul Ryan (on the team fringes last season) and Daire Plunkett.
“That’s some turnaround in a year,” he muses. “It’s no secret that we were struggling for big forwards. All our scorers tended to be corner-forwards,” he expands.
“This year we’ve a whole new halfforward line, all of them big men capable of winning their own ball, and capable of creating scoring chances and taking their scores.
“So that’s freed up other people; freed up me to move back to midfield or be available elsewhere.”
Like centre-back, perhaps? For once, Rushe is coy on the subject of his likely location against Offaly. “Unfortunately I haven’t been told, and I’d love to know myself,” he maintains, speaking ahead of tomorrow night’s team announcement.
He switched to the centre of defence after Joey Boland departed the league final with the shoulder injury that will also keep him out of Sunday’s game.
While Rushe has played plenty of club hurling in the past at No 6 and wasn’t “lost at sea” in the role, he signs off by predicting: “I don’t think I’ll be there now Sunday.” Rushe’s recent training schedule was interrupted by a virus that reportedly affected his weight, but he resumed full training over a week ago.
“You can’t keep anything secret – maybe I needed to lose a few pounds!” he quips. “But I’m grand now, fantastic, flying form, looking forward to Sunday.”
And beyond Sunday he dare not look. That one-game-at-a-time message has been “hammered into us since the start of the year” by Daly.
“Realistically everyone will have the long-term goals – ‘let’s win our provincial final, let’s go for the All-Ireland’. Why else would you waste all your time for the whole year, all the training you do?
“But you just have to focus on every step or you’re going to go nowhere,” he warns.
“So first up Offaly – if you don’t get over them you’re not going to reach any long-term goals, so we’re just 100 per cent focused on them.”
Written by Frank Roche
Article Source: Herald.ie