LOCKER ROOM: It was a good night at Croke Park on Saturday. Good value. Good entertainment. Those who stayed away lost out.
GOT TO Croke Park early on Saturday evening and anticipation already flavoured the tart northside air. Night games have a different taste, a little smattering of theatre, and mounting the brim of the Hogan we noted admiringly that the ground had been filled with dry ice for the occasion. Very rock and roll.
It turned out to be mischievous fog yet still it lent an atmosphere to the place. By the time it had cleared, Dublin were on the way to winning a close game of hurling against the All -Ireland champions. The Spring Series was under way.
In the offices of the Dublin County Board this morning the impresarios will probably reflect that the attendance of a shade over 35,000 was on the cusp of being disappointing but within sight of being a success. Getting that number into Croke Park in February is no mean feat however. Those of us who were present enjoyed it all from the throw-in of the hurling to being in the presence of the foremost (two most?) musical geniuses of our age to the final whistle of the football.
It was a good night. Good value. Good entertainment. Those who stayed away lost out. The Series is a good idea and worth persevering with.
Of the entertainment, perhaps the less said about the Dublin hurlers the better it will be for their heads. It was good to see them win a tight game against a serious team but the pattern of recent seasons has been to oscillate between the good and the awful. Dublin need to establish a level of performance with Saturday night as the base level.
As such, the return of Conal Keaney is worth more than the worryingly high proportion of scores he takes. Keaney hasn’t come back to waste time. He hasn’t come back to be part of a Dublin hurling side who spend their lives being told it would be great for hurling if they were just a little bit better. He’s come back to do the only thing that counts for Dublin hurling now. To win games.
Dublin need that attitude so badly. They need the muscular derring-do which Keaney brings to his business and which Ryan O’Dwyer brings also. There were a couple of moments in the Walsh Cup semi-final against Galway which suggested the Tipp man is what this team have needed. His goal was a thing of true grit but earlier in the same half the Galway keeper had attempted to take a quick puc out to O’Dywer’s man. The ref blew it up for being a little too quick and glic and O’Dwyer lifted the ball and drove it back at the keeper with such ferocity that he had to flinch.
As an antidote to the rather gentlemanly demeanour of Dublin hurlers generally it was splendid. Maurice O’Brien brings the same quality. Peter Kelly too. If it catches on, and if Dublin club hurling ceases to be an exercise in daintiness laced with moments of spite, the county team will be on the way.
For now the challenges are more immediate but the future is bright. Against Waterford Dublin looked colander-leaky at the back. On Saturday Ruairí ‘Budgie’ Trainor in particular brought a nimbleness to the Dublin defence and in the last five or ten minutes, when we expected the dam to burst, Dublin held firm and defended very well. Dublin have a heap of players who will audition for places on the wings and the corners of defence. Tomás Brady may end up at number six which leaves the number three spot. Peter Kelly anybody?
Kelly’s neighbours from Lucan, the dreaded Jedward, were the turn which went unstoned at half-time. There are many of us keener on seeing Damien Dempsey and Horslips in the coming weeks and Imelda May’s unavailability has been a cause of deep anguish in this heart but the Grimes twins have their place. They brought in a heap of kids who wouldn’t have been in Croke Park last Saturday night or any Sunday afternoon. In this day and age that’s the name of the game. If the kids come back Saturday will have been a success.
To the footballers. After league games like Saturday night’s it is like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin when you get into discussion about whose absentees made the most difference and who wanted it more and who’ll be a different story come the summer etc etc.
We know this though. Cork won the All- Ireland with the most impressive panel in the country. They don’t do losing. Their back lines were weakened on Saturday. But Dublin’s work ethic made a lot of the arguments redundant. That same work ethic might make a lot of Dublin absentees redundant too.
On Saturday Barry Cahill at midfield looked like an experiment worth trying again. Denis Bastick turned in one of his best displays in a sky blue shirt. James McCarthy had a hard time with Paddy Kelly (who doesn’t?) but his second-half point reminded us of old times.
It used to be that Dublin teams went out to play Cork feeling invincible. Before the fretful All-Ireland semi-final loss of 1989 the old Kevin Heffernan theory that Cork’s hubris would always kill them held good.
There was a time when Dublin used to play like men who knew that to be born a Dub was to have won the top prize in the lottery of life. To have been born in Cork was to have four of your numbers come up. And to be born in a variety of other places was to have lost your ticket.
Carelessly sometimes we refer to that quality as swagger. It isn’t though. It’s just deep self-belief and that is what Dublin had on Saturday. No evident insecurities.
There was a lot to like about this Dublin performance. Rumours of Mossy Quinn’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Kevin McManamon looks like the real deal. And Seán Murray at full back has that harum scarum quality which reminds me of the late Mick Holden.
Murray apparently is a student of sub -atomic nuclear particle physics with applied knobs on or some such baffling academic course and his presence in the Dublin line-up reminds us of the tale from the Dubs’ dressingroom from the early-to-mid 90s.
Ian Robertson, one of the great players whom injury deprived us of, required a few breaks from training as he was studying a thrilling branch of physics similar (I feel) to that being studied presently by Murray.
One of the barrack room lawyers from that Dublin team (which was full of them) was a man who felt possession of an Inter Cert was an effete sign of a dislike of hard work. He had a question to ask.
– “Why does he need three weeks off to do these exams.”
– “They’re his finals.”
– “Yeah but it’s not bleedin’ rocket science.”
– “Actually it is.”
– “Oh. Right so.”
Putting an All-Ireland-winning team together is less rocket science than it is blue collar work and empirical testing but the Dubs are on the launch pad ready to sample weightlessness.