Driven Daly may be running on empty
O'Grady: Blues boss has nothing left to give 'stale' Dubs
MICHAEL O'GRADY had seen the Dublin hurlers in training and was impressed by what he saw. They looked "fresh".
But whereas what happens on the training ground is of crucial importance, it's what transpires in the public glare that really counts.
Supporters make their judgements based on what they see in the white heat of championship battle. And over the past 140 minutes - the Leinster final against Kilkenny and last Sunday's All-Ireland quarter-final against Tipperary - there wasn't any freshness about Dublin.
They were stale. At times they appeared bereft of ideas; they were certainly lacking forward punch. Above all, the precision and controlled aggression and soaring momentum that marked last year's Leinster title winning run were all marked absent.
Given all the above, it's no surprise there has been such a focus on Anthony Daly's next step. The man himself was understandably non-committal in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's 13-point defeat but, on radio yesterday, Eddie Brennan even engaged in some mischievous speculation that the king-makers in Galway hurling will be monitoring the situation closely.
Michael O'Grady managed Dublin for four seasons before calling time in 2000. He's amazed that Daly retained the appetite to keep chasing the dream for so long.
"Let's be honest, even if he had won two All-Irelands, after six years ... I'd say in his tank there's nothing left for Dublin," the Limerick native surmises. "He's done everything. The man has travelled thousands of miles. He's been at club matches. He has an excellent team on the sideline. He's a great motivator; the lads have great time for him.
"But maybe he's grown stale as well. I know if it was me, I'd be stale. I know with my time with Dublin, it was nothing like what it's now. I had four years, and the fourth year was a slog. I really was burned out, and only for (selectors) Tommy Naughton and John Thompson I'd have been gone," he admits.
"I suppose they were so near last year with Ryan O'Dwyer being sent off. We could have won the All-Ireland final last year; of course he had to stay for another year. There's no good time, but I'd imagine his own tank is empty. I personally wouldn't be faulting the man if he decides to go," O'Grady stresses.
"It's his call obviously, with the county board, to decide the future. But I would be imagining that he'll be thinking hard this morning and the next few days, that maybe it's time - for himself, never mind for the team - to try a different venture."
Either way, renewal of the Dublin squad is not just an option but an imperative.
Brennan, the former Kilkenny star-turned-analyst, was struck by the fact that Dublin never had "a cut" at Tipp; that "a lot of their bigger players just didn't seem to really, really want it." He told RTÉ: "If ever a team had a bit of a chip on their shoulder, it should have been Dublin from last year - they felt they should have got to an All-Ireland final. And certainly their body language and their display didn't show that they were hurting over that."
But Brennan also alluded to a potential problem, be it for Daly or his successor, when suggesting that Dublin's panel - when you peruse the match programme - "don't really strike the fear into you that maybe they did last year or the year before."
Injuries have played a part in their diminished prowess - Danny Sutcliffe being an obvious reference point. The All Star wing-forward just managed to make it back from his broken hand in time for the Leinster final against Kilkenny, but he was playing a losing race against time to relocate last year's sparkle. O'Grady believes he was still struggling with the legacy of that injury on Sunday, adding: "I saw him the very first tackle he went into, it wasn't typical Danny. So he wasn't match-fit - and he's a fabulous hurler."
Sutcliffe will be back next year, fitter and stronger. Others won't be.
"There isn't a doubt that a few of the players are definitely very close to the end of their regime of playing for Dublin," O'Grady predicts. "Again, it's not age - it's more mileage. The hard training they do now, I think it knocks the stuffing out of them really."
He reckons anywhere between three and six players might call time - "and I'd respect that totally, because I cannot believe the commitment they've made over the last six years under Daly. They've been phenomenal really.
"Maybe they're stale as well. So I wouldn't be surprised if six guys decide 'Listen, it's time' ... or maybe the new manager might say 'Listen, I want to build a new team - and I'll keep the nucleus there.' Because you'd have to build a new team. Every year there should be at least a turnover of two guys.
"This year we had (Colm) Cronin and maybe one or two more, but not that many. So maybe it's time ... not maybe, it is time to revisit all that and to move forward. Whatever happens, whether it's with Anthony or without, it's a good time to look at all aspects of (Dublin) hurling."
Looking back on the full campaign, O'Grady harks back to Dublin's flirtation with relegation and reckons failure to qualify for the league knockout stages was "a disaster in my book", leaving them without a competitive game from the end of March until the middle of June.
He wonders if different tactical manoeuvres could have been tried on Sunday, such as reverting Liam Rushe to old attacking haunts and moving Conal Keaney, who was being double-marked under high balls, back to No 6.
"Don't forget, Liam starred in the forwards for three or four years. You can forget those things, because you kind of getting tunnel-vision to a team, etc, etc, and you don't see it in the heat of the moment ... Rushe wouldn't be expected up there, he might have caused confusion.
"But that's no excuse for what happened. The lads on the line did their best and made all the changes they could, but too many lads on the field weren't up to standard. That's the reality."
The story of Dublin's season.