GAVIN CUMMISKEY of the Irish Times talks to Dublin’s Niall Corcoran and finds that his side’s performance against Tipperary didn’t come as any surprise
THE SEASON ended with their dignity intact and for many hurling followers in Dublin there came a sense of relief that Tipperary were unable to open them up. That was the fear permeating the capital city leading into Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final. Then you speak to Kilmacud Crokes corner back Niall Corcoran and realise such a mindset is selling short the National League champions.
The primary ambition for 2011 was to win the All-Ireland. Corcoran fully expected to keep Eoin Kelly to one point from play. The players knew they were good enough to be level at half-time. They also believed they could score the goals that would deliver victory.
Two out of three isn’t bad but they provided no solace for those aboard the last coach journey out of Croke Park on Sunday evening. Before climbing on the team bus, Corcoran stalled to try and articulate what had just transpired.
“No words can describe the way we feel,” he began. “Beforehand we said we would throw the kitchen sink at them and just see what happens. We knew that we would perform, we knew that would happen.
“At half-time we thought we were in a great position and that we could drive on. Maybe the goal was the difference, and that’s what cost us but, like, looking back, there was nothing more we could have done. We gave it everything. It wasn’t good enough. We just have to accept that and build for next year.”
It required moments of brilliance from Noel McGrath and Pádraic Maher to hold Dublin at arm’s length. Five excellent second-half points from this pair ultimately proved the difference (what with Paul Ryan’s unerring return from frees cancelling out Kelly’s accuracy with placed balls).
Of course, Lar Corbett’s early goal and 1-3 total proved valuable but Peter Kelly kept him scoreless after half-time. Corcoran indicated that Anthony Daly’s management team correctly assigned the man marking duties.
“Look at Shane Durkin; he had a phenomenal game on Noel McGrath. Peter Kelly, I don’t think Lar Corbett has met a man like him – phenomenal game. Even Paul Schutte, in only his second championship start, did a great job in the fullback line.
“Guys like that just stepped out of their shell. If we can do it on the big days like this, we can do it every day.
“But all over the field our tackling was phenomenal. The work in midfield, what the forwards did. Working in twos and threes to make sure we were there with Tipp the whole time. That’s what we needed to bring today. Just came up a bit short.”
The surprise for many was that this game actually became a tactical battle. But it did. When the players sought the shade under the Hogan Stand at the interval, the Dublin chieftains remained on the field. Deliberating. Daly and his management team of Richie Stakelum, Ciarán Hetherton, Vincent Teehan and John McEvoy stood there on the grass. Stakelum did the talking. Daly listened to the wise Tipp man, saving his words for the last team talk of a long campaign.
“At half-time we expected to be in that position, I know it is hard to believe but we expected to be with Tipperary. They got a few scores at the start of the second half but then we got going again. Lads really dug into them. That’s all you can do.
“Our plan was (to play) three midfielders and bring Johnny back for the puck outs,” Corcoran explained. “They were the match ups. Johnny, along with Rushie in the second half, picked up an awful lot of breaking ball. That made a huge difference.
“The lads up front, Ryan O’Dwyer and Liam Ryan, a two-man full forward line, worked ferociously hard. It was all about work rate. There was tactics but it came down to men working for each other.
“Tipperary’s game plan is to get it into the square as quick as possible. You have John O’Brien and Lar Corbett in there. I suppose our biggest thing was to watch for the breaks because we saw in the Waterford game how they picked up some amount of breaks and got the goals. It worked out to some degree. We were just unlucky with the goal. Otherwise we were fairly reassured back there.”
Now, Dublin must start all over again. The immediate positive looking at 2012 is the expected return of five serious hurlers from injury. Arguably their most inspirational man Conal Keaney as well as Tomás Brady, Stephen Hiney, David Treacy and Oisín Gough have several months of rehabilitation ahead of them but all should be back.
“The key now is to build on this. Walsh Cup champions, league champions, All-Ireland semi-final. We think we can win the All-Ireland and that’s our aim for next year. There is no point saying otherwise.
“We have the panel good enough to do it. That’s our aim for next year: to be in the All-Ireland final and hopefully become All-Ireland champions.
“When you lose to Tipperary in an All-Ireland semi-final by four points you know you can mix with the best of them. If there were any lingering doubts in this panel I think they are all gone now. Roll on next year, I suppose.”
The presumption is that Daly will continue to drive up from Clare to manage this group.
“What can I say about Dalo? An inspirational manager. His team talk before the match, at half-time – we were speechless. Coming from a background with Clare where he knows what it takes. It is really all about belief and he has got that into us.”