Dublin’s Stephen Hiney in action against Eoin Larkin of Kilkenny. Picture: Daire Brennan/SPORTSFILE
CONOR MCKEON – 09 AUGUST 2013 02:30 PM
THERE probably wasn’t even a silent minority of people in Ennis that night last summer who thought Anthony Daly would be back as Dublin manager for the beginning of this year.
Partly, that’s because a quick survey of the witnesses to Dublin melting in Cusack Park and being knocked out of the championship would hardly have uncovered a single one who truly believed, there and then, that even he could turn the team back the right way up.
And Daly is nothing if not a realist.
He had his own his theories at the time and they weren’t of the ‘Dublin-are-too-big-to-hurl’ nature that attracted sufficient noise to become consensus.
There was, he reckoned, nothing much wrong with their build or their hurling or, indeed, their preparation. Rather, it was what was going on between their ears, an internal affliction which had beset his team and by the time Kilkenny tanned their hides in Portlaoise, it was far, far too late to manage the decay.
Which isn’t to divide blame exclusively amongst those in jerseys. The effort was there. They trained more and tried harder than they had in 2011.
And his management had allowed it to happen, mostly undetected. So self-doubt, Daly, admits, is as tangible a force in management as it is among players.
“I doubt myself most days,” he laughs. “Whether it be in collecting the kids in time. We’re human. When you have a bad day you have to look at yourself and say, ‘God, this is not working’ or ‘What can we do to change this?’
“But if you give up, you give up and that’s the end of that then. You won’t be doing that anymore. You will move on to do something else.
“We are only on this planet for so long. We stayed at it, I suppose, and after the Leinster final, I was in good form we stayed going.”
So it seems the only people who weren’t surprised by Dublin’s Cat-taming and Leinster title this summer were those sitting around their own dressing-room.
“They’re mad for road and as hungry as ever. They are mad keen, they want more out of it,” he says of Dublin’s looming All-Ireland semi-final.
“But to win the Bob O’Keeffe was great. We’d mention Bob a few times over the five years so it was nice to have him in the dressing-room.”
Little things have fallen neatly into place along the way, proving perhaps, that being reactive and, in some cases, lucky can be more effective and beneficial than the best-laid plans of hurling managers.
Stephen Hiney, for example.
“First night against Wexford,” recalls Daly, “Stephen Hiney didn’t play at all and we probably got roughed out of it on the night.
“You don’t rough Hiney too handy, so he was an important man for (the replay in) Parnell. He has grown in the matches as well.”
Even within that first night in Wexford, when Dublin played high-wire tap-dancing with their season, it was the minutiae which saved them, like Michael Carton’s brilliant long-range point or Eamon Dillon’s goal, a score in which Mark Schutte played at least as influential a part.
“We had a good meeting the night after the first Wexford game in White’s Hotel, we got a room and just said ‘Good oul’ Michael Carton,’ he’s a fireman, we had only the one fireman that night. You know, a lot of lads were jumping out of the burning building and the fireman was going in the front door. He went up the field that night and got a point and kept us in it.
“Maybe Mark (Schutte) and ‘Trollier’ (Eamonn Dillon) coming off the bench. Mark set up the goal and Trollier got the goal. Fellas trying to be honest with each other and saying, ‘Look it, that’s not good enough and can we improve ourselves for next week.'”
Daly has been stoic ever since disposing of Wexford under a barrage of stray hurleys. He added his team had “improved a lot more than we got credit for the second night”. “Kilkenny then were looming, were maybe under the radar a bit and I suppose even getting a draw with Kilkenny will do a lot for fellas’ confidence if they can play well.
“If you, yourself, are playing wing-back, for instance, and you have a good oul’ game on a big name and the match turns out a draw it does give you a bit more confidence you know.
“Ah, going into the next day I think fellas kind of brought that with them a bit. And maybe a lot of people said, ‘Pity, your chance is gone, they don’t lose replays,’ and that helped as well, I suppose. So our cover is well blown now.”
In October of 2008, when Anthony Daly arrived in Parnell Park for his media unveiling as Dublin senior hurling manager, he noted casually how it was unlikely that Dublin would ever win an All-Ireland during his time in the capital and sure, if he could bring them on some way towards that glorious end, it might be considered a success.
Does he care to change that evaluation?
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” he laughs, shaking his head furiously, almost disinclined to consider the possibility.
“Sure we’re not in an All-Ireland, you know? We’re in an All-Ireland semi-final, so hopefully we can get another big day out of ourselves.
“It’s been about getting out in the big days.
“Whoever is left, it’s going to be a good All-Ireland anyway. For us, it would be a dream come true to win it, but that’s folly at the minute,” he warns.
“It’s about getting a big one out now (against Cork) and seeing where that takes us.”