Anthony Daly, Dublin hurling boss. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
On Saturday night, as Dublin’s Leinster ambitions looked about to spark into flames in Wexford Park, his forward line malfunctioned collectively and almost totally.
Couldn’t win a ball, couldn’t take a score.
His half-back line, meanwhile, thrived. And two of the most obvious candidates who could make a compelling difference in attack, Conal Keaney and Liam Rushe, were both sitting across that unit of the Dublin defence.
Rob Peter? Pay Paul?
“If we have to make a change, we won’t be afraid to make it,” Daly insisted after the 1-17 to 1-17 draw, a result which, with five minutes to go and Wexford a goal up, looked a wholly appealing and fairly unlikely scenario for Dublin.
“You’re trying your best to win a match, whatever way you can get the best out of lads. We’ll look at it.”
As an illustration, Dublin’s forward line began as follows: Ryan O’Dwyer, Joey Boland, Danny Sutcliffe; Conor McCormack, David Treacy and David O’Callaghan.
It finished thus: Sutcliffe, Conal Keaney, O’Dwyer, Paul Ryan, Mark Schutte, Eamon Dillon… meaning that only Sutcliffe (who scored three points from play in the first half and contributed a couple of smart and vital assists in the second) and O’Dwyer (who spent, by our calculations, almost 17 minutes off the pitch being treated for injury, wearing three different jersey numbers due to blood sub regulations in his own very Saving Private Ryan episode) were the only starting forwards to finish there.
“I thought our half-forward line lost its shape, got dragged back the field,” offered Daly. “We tried to talk about that during the week but the natural instinct is to go back and help when we didn’t need to.
“And it was the same with us in the first half, our half-backs looked to be on top. We just have to keep our line a bit better and keep the presence a bit better.”
Yes, Eoin Moore, Tomás Waters and Keith Rossiter are fine defenders who played well collectively and as a unit but imagine, for a second, what Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrrell might do if Dublin are so impotent in their final line of attack in a fortnight’s time, should they win the replay in Parnell Park next Saturday night (7.0).
“I tell you, these matches, you could nearly throw a lot of stuff out the window,” considered Daly.
“David Treacy was our sharpest man coming into the game and felt he was really going to do damage, but it just didn’t happen.
“Sometimes it can happen. Dotsy with a couple of wides when you’d put your shirt on him scoring. I thought Conor fought hard, to be fair to him, worked tirelessly all through. Look, it was just one of those nights, a draw was a fair result at the end of the day.”
Everything that happened before the 49th minute can be summed-up thus: Dublin were the better team, couldn’t take their scores, couldn’t win a ball up front, but were dynamic in midfield and dominant in their half-back line.
But, outside of Sutcliffe and Boland’s frees, little else was doing on the scoreboard.
And Jack Guiney’s 31st-minute snap-shot goal after Eoin Quigley’s penetrative run had given the home side a closeness with Dublin they perhaps didn’t deserve, leaving them just a point off (1-8 to 0-12) at half-time.
But all the frenetic energy of the match suddenly started spinning in Wexford’s direction.
Four points in succession from the 49th to the 56th minute put them into a two-point lead and suddenly, with Dublin’s forward line serving as a repellent for the ball, the match started taking on many of the characteristics of the Dubs’ defeat by Clare last year in Ennis.
“Yeah, it was looking very similar to Cusack Park and fair play, we stayed at it,” added Daly.
In truth, Dublin’s experience probably bought them the draw. By the time Wexford went a goal up in the 65th minute, they had hit a further three wides and the upright and Lee Chin wasted a further scoring opportunity by opting for goal, rather than a point, only to find Gary Maguire’s reflexes in order.
Not to be outdone, Boland hit three wides himself. It took the brilliant Michael Carton to register Dublin’s first score in 18 minutes with an enormous effort.
And then Dublin’s goal. An Eamon Dillon pull after Mark Schutte’s high catch and low pass was followed by a Paul Ryan effort from play to put Dublin in a position to win only for a late Guiney free to force the replay.
“Wexford didn’t deserve to lose the game anyway,” Daly insisted.
“I think by the standard of hurling, both teams need it … neither of the two teams would be doing well in a Leinster semi-final unless they can up it. So hopefully the match will stand to both teams and whoever wins it will go forward a stronger unit.”