AN air of curiosity surrounds Dublin’s entry into championship fare when they face Wexford in their Leinster Senior Hurling Championship quarter-final at Wexford Park this Saturday evening (7.00).
Given that the Dubs have already secured their two primary objectives of the spring, namely regaining the Walsh Cup and securing promotion to the top flight of the National League, it remains to be seen whether Dublin are primed to scale the heights of their wonderful championship year of two summers ago.
The reason for this uncertainty is largely down to the desperately disappointing display produced against Tipperary at the league semi-final stage, and Wexford will be keen to exploit any psychological scarring that remains from that fifteen-point defeat of six weeks’ ago.
One player who was generally absolved of any blame for that display was David O’Callaghan, with the St Mark’s clubman expecting an improved display from a Wexford side that has shipped comprehensive defeats to the Dubs in the Walsh Cup and National League earlier in the year.
“They were a couple of close games for a while and sometimes in matches a team gets a run and a few scores to pull away and that’s what has happened in our two games against Wexford this year.
“As for Saturday’s game it is all about what happens on the day.
“Naturally, we’ll have confidence going into the game and we believe in ourselves but I doubt the previous games in the spring will have any relevance as to how we fare in Wexford Park,” he added.
Both sides have developed a healthy rivalry in the recent past although their last championship meeting was as far back as 2009 when Dublin eked out a narrow 0-18 to 1-13 victory in Nowlan Park thanks to two late Simon Lambert scores.
That win eventually arrived after some heart-breaking defeats in the previous two campaigns with Barry Lambert’s injury-time free inflicting a 2-14 to 3-10 defeat in 2007 while a 2-15 to 1-15 provincial semi-final replay win the following year maintained Wexford’s dominance at that time.
O’Callaghan, who was at the peak of his powers when hitting a total of 1-18 in those two encounters five years ago, expects a similarly tight affair on this occasion, given the historical tightness of the counties’ exchanges.
“We’ve won a couple and lost a couple by some tight margins over the years and I doubt we’ll see anything different at the weekend.
“They’ve got a lot of good, young players coming through and Liam Dunne is obviously developing a bit of a squad down there so they’re a team that has to be respected.
“Championship is on an entirely different level to the league and I’m sure Wexford will have worked hugely with our championship match in mind and I would imagine they will have improved from earlier in the year.
“We’ll take each game on its merits. It’s another day and we’ll treat it that way,” he said.
Despite the poverty of their performance against Tipperary in Dublin’s most recent competitive action, O’Callaghan, who works as a Games Promotion Officer with Raheny, isn’t unduly concerned ahead of the Wexford tie.
Mitigating factors were attributable to that below-par showing according to O’Callaghan, and he is expecting no hangover from what was a deflating end to a previously encouraging campaign.
“A week after the disappointment of the match, the level of training really picked up and we were right into our championship regime so you don’t really have time to dwell on these things to be honest with you.
“We had done a lot of physical training going into that game as well and we had already achieved our primary objective of promotion so although we were slightly disappointed with the level of performance that day, ultimately the bigger picture was the opening round of the championship and our training has reflected that.
“Maybe we weren’t that fresh going into the game as a result of our hard work the previous week and you need a freshness of mind and that freshness for battle, and I think we’ll certainly have that coming into the championship.
“Lads have enjoyed going back to their clubs for the start of the Dublin championship and nobody has been dwelling too much on what happened in Thurles. We’re just looking forward to improving on that display, when we’re back out again down in Wexford,” he said.
One obvious concern from that Tipperary game was the apparent lack of intensity that Dublin brought to the match, in stark contrast to their opponents who ensured O’Callaghan and David Treacy in particular were left in no doubt as to their ferocity in the individual exchanges.
That gulf in approach reflected the chasm that exists in terms of the fervency that characterised Division 1A hurling in contrast to the more lethargic offerings prevalent in Division 1B of the National League, a fact conceded by O’Callaghan.
“From looking in on the Division 1A matches this year, there is an intensity there that isn’t seen in the lower divisions.
“Obviously, we weren’t playing at that level and hurling is a game that you need to be playing against the best teams to improve. We were possibly caught a little bit as a result against Tipperary but it is one area that we have focussed on in training.
“We have really upped our intensity, our training, our work rate and our sharpness so we’re hoping that will show the next day and going forward from there,” added Dotsy.
Assuming that issue of intensity has been addressed, the Dubs look in good shape otherwise and the former dual player is optimistic, given the positive signs observed in training over recent weeks.
Naturally, a win on Saturday night can only help in that regard and especially with O’Callaghan showing the clinical form that made him such a feared attacker throughout the inter-county game.
“When you’re in the Dublin squad, you want to be playing to the best of your ability and you want to bring something to it and contribute as best you can.
“My own form has been reasonable but it is all about the panel and how we are playing as a unit.
“We have a good squad there now and I suppose lads come in and out of form at different stages and even now coming into the championship.
“Some lads didn’t play an awful lot during the league but they’re really showing well now and that is going to give the management some selection headaches.
“From a personal point of view, I just want to try to contribute to the whole thing.
“There’s a great buzz there and I get on really well with all the lads and the management.
“Whatever I can do for them, I’ll try my best to contribute to what is hopefully a successful season,” he concluded.