'We've made a living off teams underestimating us' -- Dublin star Rushe
SO just what constitutes progress for the Dublin hurlers this year?
Twelve months back, still intoxicated by the dizzy fumes of Anthony Daly's appointment and a third-place League finish, the stated goal was a Leinster final spot and the exorcism of some lingering ghosts.
What then, is the immediate goal for 2010?
"Get to another Leinster final," smiles Liam Rushe, fully aware of the implications of his answer. Unlike last year, when Dublin's early championship obstacles were the mere beating of bogey teams, Antrim and Wexford, for a spot in the eastern province decider, the proximity of all-conquering, immortality-chasing Kilkenny on the same side of the draw as Rushe's troops means the Dubs will have to do what no team has done in five years and beat Brian Cody's team to qualify for a Leinster final.
"Obviously, we'll take it game by game," the St Pat's, Palmerstown man adds, checking himself somewhat. "We'll look at Carlow or Laois and then the big game is against Kilkenny in the semi-final if we do get there."
If Dublin are to do the unthinkable, and scalp the unscalpable, Rushe will no doubt be centrally involved. An unqualified success in his first year at the senior grade in 2009, the former minor prodigy has been one of the most aggressive troops in the recent capital hurling revolution and, with 12 months experience behind him, he's more settled in his surrounding just now.
"I'm getting old now ... I'm going to be 20 this summer!," Rushe jokes. "I'm taking on a more central role now in the team. You add that bit of experience, whether it's keeping the ball in play or being cynical if you have to.
"As well as that, I'd feel more comfortable speaking in the dressing room. You're not a total newbie. You can say what you like. You were able to do that last year but you'd just be a bit apprehensive about telling lads eight or nine years older than you what to do," he adds.
Rushe acknowledges that "Dublin have made a living off teams underestimating us" so to do likewise to either Laois or Carlow would be foolhardy in the extreme -- yet his natural tendency is to be ambitious.
Which, along with versatility, delicate skill and a new found physical force are Rushe's chief attributes, traits which must sometimes make Daly wish he had a Rushe clone; one for each of his forward lines.
A ball winner of some prowess, Rushe's adhesive paw is often required in the half- forward division when possession is at a blue premium, though given his accuracy close to goal, Daly sometimes has to rob Peter in order to pay Paul.
"I like full-forward," he says. "And I think I'm best suited to full-forward.
"It's just sometimes when the ball isn't going in, you get frustrated and you want to be out the field.
"But I like a bit of consistency. I had four or five games in the league there at centre-forward. I was enjoying them. You're much more involved.
"But wherever I play, it's just about doing the best for the team," Rushe adds. "And hopefully, we can kick on from last summer."
Which would be an achievement in itself, given the immediacy of Rushe's impact on the highest stage.
He was the find of the League for Dublin and, along with fellow newcomers Oisín Gough and David Treacy, continued their form into the summer.
Such youthful excellence brings consequences, though.
Rushe, along with Treacy, has been a marked man this year -- his influence on Dublin's prowess much more quantifiable by opposition defences.
"We were absolute newcomers last year," he concedes.
"Possibly, we're getting closer treatment this year. But the team as a whole has been getting harsher treatment.
"Teams that we beat last year are making sure that we're not going to catch them on the hop this year.
"We caught Galway last year and they weren't going to let us take them again.
"But we have to look at it the same way," he adds.
"We have to make sure the teams that beat us last year don't beat us this year."