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Wednesday 24 May 2017

Baptism of fire for new crew in the sky blue

Dublin’s Donal Burke is one of the new breed coming through for the hurlers and is named to start at full-forward tonight. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Donal Burke is one of the new breed coming through for the hurlers and is named to start at full-forward tonight. Pic: Sportsfile

If you were being wildly optimistic about Dublin hurling just now, you could just about envisage a scenario where the majority of those thrown in at the deepest of ends at Croke Park this evening will swim furiously and that Ger Cunningham's men will make a League quarter-final.

Then, just as summer arrives, a battalion of Cuala players return, adding class, experience and newly-won All-Ireland club medals to a vibrant, thriving young side.

Regardless of which new players did well in the Walsh Cup or had more underage pedigree, the real test of whether their game is suited to hurling at the top level starts now.

This evening, they'll have far less time on the ball, be put under more physical pressure and have their smarts tested by some of the most talented and wiliest hurlers in Ireland.

And then there's the Croke Park issue.

Proximity

As Liam Rushe pointed out during the week, Tipperary have far more recent experience of playing on the Jones' Road, so its geographical proximity gives Dublin a negligible advantage.

The Dublin captain also raised the issue of the effects of playing in a mostly empty stadium.

Croke Park with 40,000 people can be anti-atmospheric.

With ten or 15 thousand people, it must be akin to playing in an empty airport hanger, with no reward in the form of cheers for a big play or a match-changing score or a discernible alteration in mood when a team goes on a run of them.

So it's necessary for Dublin to bring their own intensity and maintain it throughout. It's a big ask for a new team.

Because it's not as if they don't have experience of playing in front of small crowds and if a heaving Parnell Park would be a preferable venue in cold, hard terms of league points, the knowledge these young players should glean from playing the All-Ireland champions at Croke Park should have greater long-term nutritional benefits.

The bad news for Dublin is that Tipperary have consumed a feast of lessons from previous All-Ireland victories and that their manager, Michael Ryan, has been actively plotting a worthy follow-up act to 2016 almost since it ended.

Ryan himself was part of the 1991 All-Ireland-winning team who fell to Cork a year later, reducing their Liam MacCarthy defence to a single three-point loss at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

He is both acutely aware that Tipp have not retained an All-Ireland since 1965 and of the national perception as to why.

Celebrate

In an interview with the 2016 Tipperary GAA yearbook, Ryan admitted: "We celebrate too long and too hard, and when we're poor we really kill too hard as well - you know, we're neither as good nor as bad as we think we are."

And on this, their first public appearance since that brilliant All-Ireland win, they'll come as fully tooled as possible at this point of the season and also with the newly-hardened mentality that there's nothing more counter-productive for a team than to dine out on past glories after the turn of the year.

With that in mind and with so many unpredictable components of the Dublin team tonight, it's hard to make a case for anything other than a Tipperary win.

ODDS: Dublin 13/5, Draw 10/1, Tipperary 1/3

VERDICT: Tipperary

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