Still under-21, Liam Rushe is relishing Dublin’s underdog status as they get ready to face Tipperary – no matter what position he plays on Sunday
A BALMY Wednesday evening last month, moments before the Leinster under-21 final in Wexford Park, and all eyes are trained on Liam Rushe.
Where will he stand? The wonder is he’s still underage.
An inside or wing forward when his big teenage frame first arrived on the inter-county scene over two years ago, midfield became home this season. The shuffling was necessitated by full back Tomás Brady’s knee injury, and while Joey Boland’s shoulder healed, it meant centre back was his base camp.
“We tend to use him there but he’s an all-rounder, comfortable as a back or a forward,” insists under-21 manager John McEvoy.
That night Rushe trotted into the bosom of Dublin’s defence. Wexford’s powerful young centre back John Leacy was given the mission of containing the opposition’s alpha male. So, Leacy became a centre forward.
A heavyweight duel ensued. At one point – with hurleys, elbows and legs intertwined – it seemed like Wexford might silence Rushe. But it would mean reducing the playing field to 28.
Rushe avoided the naked conflict and eventually began dominating possession and space; his presence having a massive impact on the final outcome. He duly became the first Dublin hurling captain to retain a provincial under-21 hurling title. Nothing short of an All-Ireland will sate that group now.
But that is next week’s concern.
In two days’ time, assassins like Noel McGrath, Shane McGrath, and Séamus Callanan will be whizzing around him. The criss-crossing of John O’Brien and Patrick Maher too. Lar Corbett will undoubtedly drift onto his radar. Basically, the toughest prospect a hurler can face nowadays.
Joey Boland is fit but Rushe will be needed at half back. And midfield. And at wing forward as well.
“It’s tricky enough,” said Rushe of the many holes he is requested to fill. “I’ve been doing it all year, starting midfield and going centre-back, starting in the forwards and going back midfield so it wasn’t too bad (against Limerick). It was a bit of a difference, I hadn’t played forward in a while, it was midfield, centre back or wing back or whatever. It was a bit of a change to get my head around it. Maybe I wasn’t as sharp as I should have been in the forwards.”
Such was his endeavour for an hour against Limerick, Rushe seemed to be operating on fumes in the closing stages of the narrow All-Ireland quarter-final victory.
“It was almost a carbon copy to two years ago when they started throwing over sidelines and frees and we just folded a bit. This time it was in the melting pot with six or seven minutes to go and lads were putting up hands and winning balls. We mightn’t have been scoring too much but at least we were getting shots in, killing the ball, putting it dead. They had pulled a man out so they were going to have awful trouble getting a goal so we felt all along if they weren’t getting goals we could keep them at arm’s length.”
They survived but the less than convincing endgame convinced the bookmakers to make them nine-point underdogs for Sunday.
Tipperary in Croke Park, at the penultimate juncture of the championship, is uncharted territory for every Dublin hurler.
“Certainly we’re written off; ten to one on or something so it’s a grand position for us to be in. We’re total underdogs. We’ll just give it a lash.” The fearlessness of youth; he calls it bonus territory.
The only regret is the amount of Dublin injuries. Imagine the pressure Tomás Brady, Oisín Gough and Stephen Hiney could put on the Tipperary forwards? Or the creativity that David Treacy and the prodigal Conal Keaney would have brought with them.
The tale of Keaney’s motorcycle mishap the Friday before meeting Limerick neatly encapsulates their misfortune this summer.
“I didn’t get the full story until after training that night,” Rushe explained. “He was at three hospitals getting second opinions. First it was the ankle and then the ankle’s an old injury, then you find out his knee’s sore and I found out at eight or nine o’clock that his cruciate is gone.
“It was a curse, someone comes off a motorbike and does a cruciate. What are the chances of that? You commiserate with him and send him a text. It was an awful blow especially given it didn’t even happen on the pitch. That’s just unbelievable. I can’t imagine being in that situation.
“You get past it and go home than night and straight away you’re thinking, as we have been all year, ‘so and so is out, who’s going to step in now? Who’s going to fill his shoes and what positional changes will we have to make’?”
Once again, watch where Rushe settles when the sliotar gets flung in and chaos descends
Gavin Cumiskey, Irish Times