HE describes last year’s All-Ireland final as one of his greatest days in Croke Park, but former Tipperary captain and current Dublin selector Richie Stakelum hasn’t even a hint of divided loyalties this weekend.
Stakelum has lived in the capital since 1981 and has nailed his colours firmly to the Dublin mast for Sunday’s semi-final, but he’s only one of a number of Tipperary connections in the Dublin side.
Cashel native Ryan O’Dwyer has spilled more blood, literally, than anyone else for the Dublin cause since he threw his lot in with Anthony Daly’s men at the start of the year.
Football convert Shane Ryan’s father Jack is from Moneygall. Free-taker Paul Ryan also has a Tipperary father, while Joey Boland’s mother hails from Lorrha.
It goes the other way too. Declan Carr, who captained Tipp’s 1991 All-Ireland winning side which Stakelum was also a part of, lived in Dublin until his teens.
“It’s a different challenge,” agreed Stakelum. “I’m Tipperary born and rared. It’s different, but it’s no more difficult just because I was born in Tipperary. I have spent too much time and energy up here to allow any of that get in the way. I’m a Dub now.”
Such is the impression Stakelum has made since throwing in his lot with Dublin that he was linked with a return to Tipperary after Liam Sheedy stepped down last autumn. It never got off the ground, though, as by that stage, he had already recommitted to the Dublin cause, which he has seen undergo a remarkable transformation.
“Dublin weren’t even on the radar (when I was playing),” said the Borris-Ileigh native, who hurled for Tipp from 1984 to 1991 but played his club hurling for Kilmacud Crokes.
“It’s only since the Dublin Colleges a couple of years back that it started to get into people’s psyche. There was a time 10 years ago when Kilmacud could barely field an U-15 hurling team.
“Ballyboden certainly raised the bar. At underage level they set the bar extremely high — they won an All-Ireland Feile way, way back.
“Now the majority of our players that are students or are teachers are involved in summer camps the whole summer long, bringing the next group along.
“You are putting in the best-quality coaching, not just in a couple of different clubs, but right across the whole county.
“That’s what has to be done if you want to bridge the gap.”
The signs that the gap is narrowing are there for all to see. A first league title since 1939 along with bridging a gap for an appearance in an All-Ireland semi-final that stretched to 63 years represents significant progress.
Throw in wins over both Tipp and Kilkenny (twice) this year, and Dublin have made huge leaps.
Just 12 months ago when Dublin trudged from Croke Park after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Antrim, it didn’t feel like that.
“In hindsight we were very young and very callow. And as well as that, we (the management) ourselves made mistakes that day,” said Stakelum.
While Daly’s side has progressed since then, Tipperary’s ominous form and Dublin’s litany of injuries mean Sunday’s clash is expected to be a one-sided affair but regardless of what happens, Stakelum sees many more big days ahead for Dublin.
“The players involved with us on Sunday have all been involved with us coming up through the ranks and they are, on their day, as good as any hurlers in the country,” he said. “It’s about putting it all together collectively over a sustained period of time.
“When the call came I jumped at the idea because there is the raw material here for a serious team. I think the team is only starting to show its potential now.”
– Donnchadh Boyle