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Monday 25 September 2017

Steep curve for Blues

Dublin's new brigade under pressure and now heading south

Dublin manager Ger Cunningham who takes his team to Páirc Uí Rinn this Saturday night to face his native Leesiders.
Dublin manager Ger Cunningham who takes his team to Páirc Uí Rinn this Saturday night to face his native Leesiders.

In a parallel universe (specifically, one where Cuala aren't Leinster club hurling champions) these might have been the sated musings of Ger Cunningham after Dublin's 2017 League opener last weekend.

"It's a risk when you play so many players together making their debut, we had five tonight in what was a tough game.

"We brought in two more, so half the team was making its debut in the league. That is a risk but how else are you going to learn?

"It's chicken and egg. The safe option might be to put one or two of them in but …. we had to put a lot of them in."

Reflections

Instead, they were the post-match reflections of Kieran Kingston, after his Cork team won their first regular season League match since March 2015 by outclassing Clare with a side that, by the final whistle in Páirc Uí Rinn, contained seven League debutants.

"It was a necessity more than a surprise," says former Cork defender Pat Mulcahy.

"They had to win their first two games.

"They have difficult games away to Kilkenny and Tipperary so if they didn't pull a result from Clare or again against Dublin this weekend, they could be in trouble.

"The young fellas are certainly good. But in general, they're just that bit further down the track from this time last year. They're toughened."

Whereas Cunningham lobbed in a trio of players who were minor last year (Paddy Smyth, Cian O'Sullivan and Donal Burke), Kingston's new men were a year more advanced in their physical conditioning.

Shane Kingston, Luke Meade, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman and David Griffin may not have won anything at minor, but they did beat All-Ireland champions Limerick in the 2015 Munster first round before losing to the Treaty County in the competition's semi-final, at which stage Kingston was out with a broken fibula.

Kingston - Kieran's son - came on in last year's qualifier victory over Dublin in Páirc Uí Rinn, just weeks after completing his Leaving Cert.

And like most of the other 10 players currently cohabiting the Cork senior and U21 squads, he was part of a development panel established last year by management with a view to them making an immediate impact in 2017.

So far, the results are good.

Cork have won the Munster League and a victory over Dublin on Saturday would likely take them clear of the relegation play-off they managed to get themselves in order for to beat Galway in last year.

"The question marks are always there with young fellas," Mulcahy warns.

"But they're definitely good prospects."

The other difference between the Saturday evenings experienced by Cunningham and Kingston's newbies is that Cork's new brigade were built into a hardened senior structure.

Anthony Nash, Mark Ellis, Christopher Joyce, Daniel Kearney, Seamus Harnedy, Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan all ensured Cork's cubs could flourish knowing that they weren't necessarily carrying the entire burden.

Missing

With eight Cuala players missing (at least six of whom would be definite starters by any reasonable analysis) there was a very blatant lack of experience in the Dublin line-up, particularly in midfield and attack, against a Tipperary team clearly mindful of their reputation for not wintering well in years after All-Ireland wins.

Cunningham stated afterwards: "Hopefully the lads are hurting from that performance. It wasn't good enough and we'll have to try and turn it around."

He has also described it as "extraordinary circumstances that we have that many players from one club involved with the county," but the aftershocks of last year's clearout are now being felt.

By the time Cuala won their Leinster title on December 4, Cunningham had already dropped - or allowed to leave - a smattering of hardened hurlers who could, at the very least, have filled out his team for the League.

"For Cork's new players," Mulcahy adds, "the experienced guys are a major benefit."

For Dublin's, the learning curve currently looks steep.

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