Ryan O'Dwyer: 'Don't tell me it's only the league'
Making spring history in 2011 was 'massive' for Dublin and now O'Dwyer wants more as he gears up for Cork
RYAN O'DWYER has a message for all you naysayers who spend the entire spring bitching and moaning about the alleged insignificance of the GAA's second most important competition.
"I'm sick of people saying this is only the league," the Dublin forward declared, speaking at a media event to promote this Sunday's Allianz Hurling League Division One semi-finals at Nowlan Park.
The Tipperary native has good reason to salute the league, not denigrate it. He joined Anthony Daly's Dublin set-up for the start of the 2011 season; just a few months later, he was helping his adopted county to land a first league title in 72 years.
Four years on, he is now embarking on life under his second Dublin manager - Ger Cunningham - and stands just 70 minutes away from reaching another league final. Cork provide the semi-final opposition (throw-in 2.0) but there's more at stake than merely revenge for that recent March mauling in Croke Park.
"I think you want to win every single game that you go out and play in. It's just the competitive nature of the game. I think if you lose that competitiveness, there's no point in playing the game really," O'Dwyer surmised.
"So I think both teams, regardless of championship down the line, or it being 'only the league' ... I'm sick of people saying 'this is only the league'.
"In 2011, that was a massive thing for us and it still is a massive thing for us. So I think this weekend, all four teams will want to go out and win and then in two weeks' time win again, because the league is a massive thing."
Before you conclude that O'Dwyer is doubling as either a league apologist or Croke Park spin doctor, it's worth alluding to the timing of Sunday's double-header. It comes six weeks before Dublin face Galway in their Leinster SHC quarter-final at Croke Park. Even if they qualify for a May 3 league decider, that still gives them a four-week run-in to the championship.
"Four weeks - it's a great lead-up to the championship because you have a competitive game. You come down off that and you have enough time to either drown your sorrows or celebrate, and then you're preparing for the first round of the championship so it's great to have that focus there," he explained.
"Whereas if you had seven or eight weeks off, coming back into training after that, you wouldn't know whether to let the lads go back to the club, should we train away, let them go back or what should we do?"
He cites last year's Kilkenny/Tipp league final - an extra-time thriller - as evidence that going all out for league glory need not be an impediment to All-Ireland ambitions.
"Any game you play with high intensity, with something at stake, it's worth anything," O'Dwyer argued. "You can play ten challenge matches and you might get nothing out of them. You can't beat the intensity of a competitive game."
Contrast Dublin's league climax schedule (real or potential) with last season. Then, they prevailed over Waterford in a relegation play-off at the end of March. Cue an 11-week hiatus until their next outing, a Leinster semi-final in Wexford. True, they won that but then flatlined for the two biggest games of the season, against Kilkenny and Tipperary.
"We noticed last year and I don't want to harp back," O'Dwyer reflected. "Our last game was the relegation play-off and from the time it got around to championship was a long lay-off."
Enough to make a difference?
"I think it did," he replied. "We went back to the clubs, and trying to get back and refocus ... but we've more competitive games closer to it this year, and hopefully one more after Sunday."
That won't happen, of course, if Dublin reprise the slackness that saw them lose their last Cork collision by 0-34 to 1-20, having leaked a record-threatening 21 points in the first half alone.
This was O'Dwyer's first start of this current campaign - he also featured in the quarter-final win over Wexford.
"Lasted until half-time," he recalled, ruefully, before adopting a more bullish approach.
"As far as I'm concerned, you're only as good as you're next game and that's this Sunday - whether I'm playing or not is a different story. I just need to go out this Sunday and prove myself all over again. What's in the past is in the past."
Still, it was a pretty bizarre game?
"I played in a few bizarre games," he mused. "It was a strange game and, before the game, we felt we were ready for it; we were fresh and the training had been great and we just went out and they got a run on us.
"It was one of those days when whatever way the ball bounced, it was bouncing into a Cork hand - for the first half anyway. In the second half, then we made a few changes ... I was taken off so that probably helped! We came back but we left ourselves too much work to do."
Dublin encounters with Cork (check out their 2013 All-Ireland semi-final) tend to be shootouts - which can be dangerous when those Rebel forwards get a run on you.
"Cork are all fantastic hurlers and they just want to go out and hurl," O'Dwyer concluded. "They don't want to drag you down to a certain level or defend. It's all-out hurling. There's so many natural hurlers on the Cork team and it's the same with Dublin."
With Kilkenny gone from the equation, there's a perception that opportunity knocks for all four semi-finalists.
"It's gas, when Kilkenny aren't playing, everyone still harps on about Kilkenny," this adopted Dub mused. "The year is still young and they have other things on their mind. The fact that Kilkenny aren't in it, there's four teams left and we've one team to deal with and that's all we're focussed on."