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Thursday 8 December 2016

Dublin draw comfort from back yard

Sky Blues put their five-year unbeaten record in Parnell Park on the line against Tribesmen

Dublin’s Eamon Dillon celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal against Galway during the Walsh Cup semi-final in Parnell Park last month Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Eamon Dillon celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal against Galway during the Walsh Cup semi-final in Parnell Park last month Photo: Sportsfile

If there was any comfort for Dublin as they boarded the bus in Thurles last Saturday, it was that their next game: Saturday's win-or-stare-a-relegation-battle-in-the-teeth outing, is in Parnell Park.

There might not be any 'Welcome To The Hell' banners draped over the advertising hoardings at the Church end a la Galatasaray's Türk Telekom Arena in Istanbul, but there's still a strong sense that Parnell Park with its tight pitch (141m x 82m), its grey walls and its intimate crowd proximity, isn't a place any of hurling's blue bloods particularly like to come.

The ground, now effectively deserted by Dublin's high-flying footballers, has knitted itself into a sort of comfort blanket for their hurlers, who - impressively - are unbeaten there in League and Championship hurling since March 2011 when John McIntyre's Galway came to Donnycarney and won.

On the one hand, it's the longest unbeaten home ground record of any team to have played Division 1A hurling in the past six years.

Rivals

Against, Dublin - largely through their involvement in the Spring Series and their suitability as a decent undercard to the footballers in Croke Park - have played by far the least number of games in their real home ground to any of their rivals.

And their home record nosedives like a Kamikaze when the stats for those designated home matches which were played in Croke Park are brought into it.

"I have no doubt that through the years, the results would have suffered by playing those games in Croke Park," says Maurice O'Brien, who's stint in the Dublin team between 2009 and 2013 coincided with the establishment of Parnell as a city hurling citadel.

"You definitely got the impression that opposition teams didn't like coming there.

"The crowd is a big factor.

"You're at home so it's mostly your support and when you're in Croke Park, it feels empty."

"You'd even sense more of an atmosphere in a Walsh Cup game in Parnell Park than a Championship match in Croke Park."

Dating back to 2009, the season when Anthony Daly took over and announced his intention to turn Parnell Park into "a fortress", Dublin have played just 16 League and Championship matches there.

Their record reads: Won 12, Lost 3, Drawn 1.

That brings their winning percentage through that time to 75%.

Galway, by way of very relevant example, have won 14 of their 19 games in Salthill since 2009, for an almost identical average of 74%.

Tipperary's record is 22 from 29 in Semple Stadium or 76% while unsurprisingly, Kilkenny have won 90% of their matches in Nowlan Park through the same period

So on the one hand, Dublin's Parnell Park record ranks along with the non-Kilkenny, top-ranking teams.

On the other, the sample size is small.

A flick through the record shows that almost more importantly than their win ratio in Parnell Park was their ability to win there when they really needed to, Daly's final season of 2014 being the model example.

Then, it seemed as though Dublin were adhering to Newtown's Third Law of Motion, the one that states that 'for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction'.

On Week One of that year's League they went to Galway and stunk the place out.

Pearse Stadium nearly had to be fumigated after they left.

Roll forward just six days and they comprehensively beat All-Ireland champions Clare by six points.

Meekly

Then, Dublin went down meekly to Waterford in Walsh Park, a week prior to putting 1-22 and another big win on Kilkenny, the eventual All-Ireland champions.

"There probably is a thing there for opposition, like as if you're facing into going to Nowlan Park or to Thurles, you know it's going to be hard to beat Dublin at home.

"It's a different proposition. It's their back yard," O'Brien adds. "The results prove that."

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