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Tuesday 27 June 2017

Do or die in Ennis for the Blues

Dubs must target Clare clash to safeguard status - Morris

Dublin’s Liam Rushe tries to battle his way out of traffic under pressure from Clare’s Cian Dillon when the sides met in their Allianz HL Division 1A encounter of March 2015 Picture: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Liam Rushe tries to battle his way out of traffic under pressure from Clare’s Cian Dillon when the sides met in their Allianz HL Division 1A encounter of March 2015 Picture: Sportsfile

Pressure, what pressure? Former manager Marty Morris considers Dublin's looming Allianz Hurling League trip to Ennis and concludes: "This is do-or-die for them this weekend."

Strictly speaking, we aren't quite at that sink-or-swim watershed.

This is round four in Division 1A; the losers of Clare/Dublin will have another chance to claim that second victory that could safeguard top-flight status.

But it's getting very congested at the bottom - with Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny and Clare all currently stuck on two points - and with two of this quartet virtually certain to be facing a relegation play-off at the start of April.

But then pressure is measured differently depending on circumstances. In the absence of his Cuala contingent, Ger Cunningham has pressed the accelerator with his radical overhaul of Dublin.

But this is year three for the Corkman; he craves tangible signs of progress, in championship even more so than league.

You could say the same demanding yardstick applies to a Clare squad that have been serial under-performers in summer since the All-Ireland triumph of 2013. But, crucially, their managerial duo will be given the space usually afforded a new regime.

Philosophical

Thus, joint-boss Donal Moloney could greet last Sunday's seven-point defeat in Thurles with the type of philosophical answer you expect from someone who isn't under pressure to win a trophy yesterday.

"These games are essentially for us to prepare for the championship," Moloney reminded. "We're trying out a lot of lads and we're quite happy with how a lot of those lads are playing. If it doesn't happen and we end up in a (relegation) play-off, so be it."

There is every chance that Sunday's Cusack Park losers will end up there. "It's a tough one," Morris conceded.

"It's fantastic that Cuala are where they are and you hope that from a Dublin perspective they go on and do it (in the All-Ireland club SHC final against Ballyea) ... all of Dublin is behind them and they're a fantastic team with a very exciting forward-line.

"But Mark Schutte is a huge loss off that Dublin forward line. They're up against it in Clare at the weekend."

The former Dubs boss tuned into Clare's encounter with the All-Ireland holders last weekend. "For a long time, they were in that game with Tipperary. And again, they'd be short one of their real true superstars in Tony Kelly.

"You fancied that Tipp were going to win it but they (Clare) made a better fist of Tipperary than Dublin did.

"So Dublin have it all to do this weekend. It's admirable to be bringing the young lads through, and sometimes you have to take the hit and go down for a year to bring it back.

"I hope that's not the case because staying in Division 1A, to me, keeps Dublin at the top table. You're coming against the Tipps and Kilkennys of this world ... that's the cutting edge."

For the one league campaign overseen by Morris, back in 2003, Dublin lost at home to Clare by seven points.

They were, he concedes, "way better than us" on the day. And yet, even in defeat, a young Conal Keaney bagged a hat-trick of goals.

Eleven months on from his Dublin retirement, Morris believes Keaney could still make a difference. That partly explains his mixed views on Cunningham's youth policy, one that has delivered a trouncing by Tipp, an uplifting backlash in Cork, and then that topsy-turvy defeat to Waterford.

"It's a brave move," he acknowledges, "but one of the great stalwarts went by the wayside - Conal Keaney.

"I'd have tried to keep him myself, because I was there just when he started his career and I don't think Dublin have better.

"If he was prepared to be an impact sub … I just don't think Dublin had a go-to guy of that temperament and skill. I don't know what was behind it; maybe Conal had decided he was done and being a substitute wasn't what it was about."

Massive

Morris continues: "Danny Sutcliffe is just a massive loss to that team. He's an incredible player. To bring a young lad through, to try and get to that level ... I just don't think there's anybody of that quality there yet. In time yes, surely. Whatever it takes to get a player of his calibre playing, I think I'd be doing it."

Dublin's last regulation game is a big ask against Kilkenny - even in Parnell Park (Sun, March 26) - while the same can be said for Clare's home date with Waterford. Somewhere, be it on Sunday or a fortnight later, the Blues need to bag a brace of points.

"Dublin teams always play better in Parnell Park - it's a citadel," says Morris. But then he concludes: "I would think they've a better chance against Clare ... to me it's this weekend. It's do-or-die."

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