03 June 2014 12:00 AM
CONAL KEANEY has paid tribute to the more recent additions to Dublin’s senior hurling panel ahead of the county’s defence of their provincial title, which begins with a clash against Wexford later in the month.
Anthony Daly has freshened up his panel since that landmark campaign that brought a Leinster success over Galway last summer and Keaney feels that the new additions have had a hugely positive impact on the depth of quality at Daly’s disposal.
“I think we have been very lucky with the introduction of the likes of Colm Cronin, Paul Winters and Cian O’Callaghan into our panel as it has added a bit of freshness to our preparations.
“These lads are seriously talented hurlers and the more game time that they experience, the better it is for the whole panel in that it certainly increases the competition within the squad.
“Despite their age, these lads are very mature and well aware of what is required to succeed at this level and even from my own perspective, it is great to see these lads putting their hands up and looking to get starting places for our championship opener,” said the Ballyboden man.
Cronin in particular has taken to senior hurling with a large degree of confidence and Keaney recognises the importance of new faces to keep the competitive levels on a high as the Dubs look to build on last year’s achievements.
“Things are going very well at the moment and it is great for us to have such a competitive edge at training these days.
“These young lads have come in and they haven’t been overawed about what is expected of them and that has given the whole panel a boost.
“They have confidence and can back that up with their performances and I think that was vital for us if we were to progress from last year,” he said.
Naturally, given Dublin’s obvious travails in both 2010 and 2012, where they failed to build on positive campaigns from previous years, the question remains what the Dubs can improve on to ensure a similar fate does not await them this summer.
Keaney, however, is insistent that the panel possess a far greater toughness at present and is encouraged by the mood within the camp.
“I think there are a few minor differences between two years ago and the present and looking back on it, I think it is fair to say that we may have rested on our laurels back then and thought that further success would just happen for us.
“Obviously, we found out to our cost that our preparations were not what they should have been and it’s possible that we were carried away a bit, especially when we saw the success of the footballers in 2011.
“The group now is far more mature and there is certainly a greater emphasis on the panel as a whole, rather than the individual concerns of the players.
“The so-called A and B teams are really pushing each other to improve their standards and the attitude of the lads who aren’t selected to start has been great.
“Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the lads have been brilliant in encouraging everyone and it is their input that is pushing everyone on and ensuring that the attitude and focus is what it should be,” said Keaney.
With Clare having come from the pack to claim a wonderful national triumph last year, most pundits anticipate a similarly unpredictable championship this summer.
Dublin’s name has been touted within various circles as potential Liam McCarthy winners but Keaney is well aware of the pitfalls that can come from looking too far ahead.
“There is a huge amount of excitement and anticipation throughout the country about this year’s All-Ireland, especially after the wonderful championship there was last year.
“It seems that it is very open this year and the competitiveness of the National League would show how close the top teams are to each other in terms of quality.
“There are probably five or six teams that have a genuine chance of winning the All-Ireland this year and that shows how much things have changed in recent years when Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork were almost always seen as the favourites.
“I think Dublin are rightly among those five or six teams that have genuine ambitions but we cannot take anything for granted.
“We are certainly there or thereabouts and maybe with a bit of luck we could have reached the final last year but you have to work hard to earn that luck at this level.
“All we can do is look to get back to that level and hopefully have a bounce of the ball go our way.
“Last year’s match against Wexford showed the pitfalls that there are and the one big lesson we learned from that is that we can never afford to get ahead of ourselves.
“Our mantra is to take each game as it comes and never to look too far ahead as you’re more than likely to come a cropper if your collective focus isn’t right,” he added.
Keaney is currently in Portugal as Dublin take a four-day training excursion, looking to fine tune their preparations for Saturday week.
Maintaining their Division 1A status was encouraging for the long-term development of the panel but there were more immediate benefits to the panel in terms of their confidence.
“Beating Waterford in that relegation play-off was important for everyone and the younger players within the panel can only improve with regular tests against the best teams in the country.
“We have really stepped up training since we all returned from our clubs after the first two games in the Dublin SHC and although there was a slight lull in the first week, we are really getting up to speed now and hitting proper championship pace.
“As far as I am concerned, this is the strongest squad that Dublin have had in many a year and lads are going that extra level to be part of it.
“Whereas before, we may have been reliant on a small number of players, we now have options in almost every position and I think our depth and tactical approach have improved as a result.
“That for me is the main ingredient for success, when you have players busting a gut to be involved and ready to do their best if and when they are called upon.
“For the first time in a long while, we now have players of serious ability on the bench and it is a huge bonus to be able to bring on players of that ability when needed. It is all about the group and that is very encouraging.”
It remains a very busy time for Keaney, both on and off the field, as his business interests continue to develop further.
His CP Adventure venture is especially prominent with Adrenaline Wet & Wild camps organised for both July and August for children aged ten or over.
The activities include kayaking, snorkelling, orienteering and rock climbing and further details can be found by calling 087-9803201 or by visiting www.cpadventure.ie