Liam Rushe. Picture: Sportsfile
MEDIA morning in Parnell Park. Liam Rushe is coming up the stairs. He pauses for a chat on the landing.
He carries his achievements lightly. But already the CV has a quality look about it — All-Star, Young Hurler of the Year, captain of the Dublin U21s and considered one of the finest hurlers in the country.
He’s the Cúchulainn of Glenaulin Park, home to his beloved Pat’s. He still remembers the pride on hearing the St Patrick’s name being called out when he was about to collect his All-Star award.
It was a huge moment for the club, and the accolade seemed to cement the progress they have made since their humble beginnings in 1961 to where they stand today.
He is idolised by the kids around Palmerstown. And if ever a child meets Liam down at the club or out on the street, the locals say he finds more time than Daniel O’Donnell.
He was a big hit on the recent Féile Roadshow that visited the Dublin schools. Whether in English or as Gaeilge, the children hung on his ever word. Out on the pitch, they see him hang in the air like a hand-glider above Howth Head. He has that spring in the step. Always on the toes like all good athletes.
He is among the best fielders in the game. It’s an art of the ancient craft. It’s not that common anymore.
But the sight of Liam rising to the clouds and taking the sliotar in his paw amid the flying timber is what makes the old game hum.
He is steeped in hurling’s folklore. He grew up idolising Seánie McMahon and the Lohans, all Clare champions.
“I had visions of becoming a centre half-back, but it didn’t turn out that way,” he says.
He recalls being excited by the hurling revolution sparked by counties such as Clare, Wexford and Offaly.
“Kilkenny were going through a bit of a lull at that stage, so it was interesting times for hurling when I was growing up,” he says.
But Liam knows that black and amber Cats don’t sleep for too long. And on Saturday evening, Dublin will face King Henry of the Shefflins, and all his mighty subjects, once again.
Liam is glad the match is in Portlaoise. “The nice thing about a ground like that it that the crowd can come onto the pitch at the end,” he says.
“That is something the GAA has over other sports, but, unfortunately, it has gone now from Croke Park due to the safety concerns.”
O’Moore Park also reminds him how much Dublin hurling has advanced. Back in 2006, Westmeath beat Dublin in the Leinster Championship by two points.
It poured rain. The pitch was unplayable. The sliotar splashed around in puddles like a duck.
The game shouldn’t have gone ahead, yet, that aside, it was still a dark result for the Dubs.
“I remember it well. I was there in the lashing rain. It was a hard defeat to take for Dublin on their first day out.
“You compare that to our display against Laois a couple of weeks ago. That shows the distance that Dublin have come in six or seven years.”
Liam says that the short hop to Portlaoise should encourage the Blue Army to descend in big numbers. “Sure, it’s no distance at all now with the motorway,” he says.
He’s wishing for a sell-out. “Hopefully, we’ll get a good crowd, a good atmosphere and a good result.” Three out of three ain’t bad!
He’s not expecting a repeat of the Nowlan Park National League score fest. “That would be nice, but I don’t think we’ll see that. That was an unusual one. To score six goals and still lose.”
Liam knows that Dublin will have to produce their Saturday best to proceed against the All-Ireland champions and perhaps the greatest team that has ever played the game.
“We are happy with our preparations. You hear all sorts of rumours from Kilkenny that this fella is not playing and that fella is not playing, but we can’t be paying too much attention to that. We can only play whatever team is put in front of us.
“And knowing Kilkenny, you can be pretty sure that that will mean 15 fantastic players.”
Learning the lessons of the past will be important. “In the last couple of years we have fallen short. Maybe we were a bit too obsessed with stopping them from playing.
“Perhaps we were a bit nervous and negative. Hopefully this time we can produce a better performance. It can go no worse that it did in the last couple of years when we hardly played and we didn’t do ourselves justice.
“Kilkenny have set the bar and we have sometimes struggled to match them, but we are all now really looking forward to this latest challenge.”
The words of the Banner-man can help let the juices flow. “Anthony is a great speaker and motivator.
“He’s very organised and he has a top team around him, so he has all the basics covered.”
But even then, it’s hard to keep an eye on all those swinging cat flaps. It will be a tough exam for Dublin, that’s for sure.
But in Rushe they have a hero of the modern generation, and Liam and his colleagues fully understand what’s required to grind out what would be a famous victory.
If Dublin do it, it will be another step along the route of the Stairway To Heaven.
– Niall Scully – Evening Herald