herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

All hell will break loose

Dubs hero Hiney's hoping Blues can tame Cats after typically frenetic opening

ALL hell breaking loose. A hurling frenzy. Men tearing each other apart.

In the efforts to bill tomorrow's achingly anticipated clash between Dublin and Kilkenny as some class of Spartan war, some might be accused of over-tensing the occasion, but Stephen Hiney perhaps sums it up best.

"You can have tactics for anything and everything," Hiney told the Herald during the prelude to tomorrow's O'Moore Park showdown.

"But when it comes to the match and the ball is thrown in, there is a frenzy there for 10 minutes and all hell breaks loose and nothing goes by plan. You just have to be ready for anything and you just have to hurl your man. It's as simple as that.

"You will get pulled and dragged everywhere. That is Kilkenny's way. They come deep and then come back up the pitch so you just have to be ready for everything. Everyone knows that's going to happen. Both sides will be tearing each other apart for the first 10 minutes and we'll be ready for that."

Crucially, Hiney himself is ready, a prognosis which has been some 16 months in the making. No stranger to the upper end of injury severity scale (he previously suffered a retina injury which threatened his entire career), Hiney missed almost all of last season and the early part of this one with a knee injury so severe, it again left question marks hanging over his continued participation in his chosen craft.

Sombre word had it that after twisting awkwardly in a league match in Wexford Park last March, the internal wires in Hiney's leg resembled an old box of coiled Christmas tree lights and the process of untangling and making them functional again would require more patience than a Chinese monk.

Typically, Hiney underplays it all. The way he looked at it, he spent a large proportion of his week hurling. Now, through injury, he couldn't hurl so the only available option was to devote that same time to rehabilitation.

"That's essentially it. I ended up doing the cruciate, the lateral and another posterior ligament as well so there was a fair bit of damage done to the the knee so I knew it would be a slow process."

He was in good company.

Conal Keaney and Tomás Brady subsequently joined him in the long-term sickbay and the three set about tunnelling back to fitness in unison. And the symmetry didn't end there.

The first time they re-appeared on a pitch together was at the squad's training camp in Portugal in April. Then came the club championship before all three were granted starting berths against Laois last time out (Leinster quarter-final) in Tullamore.

HEALTHY

"It wasn't so much about dates," he says of the process. "It was more about steps and things you had to be able to do in order to move on to the next level.

"We had broad ideas of when we would be back and it was a good healthy balance between ourselves and the physios.

"We're really pushing them to let us go back and they're trying to hold us back to make sure we've every box ticked. There was a good working relationship between ourselves and themselves. That's probably how you would put it."

Crucially, he is confident that the knee is back to its full working order. On a day when Dublin strolled to an opening championship victory in O'Connor Park, Hiney still had to pick up the tab for Laois' best player, Willie Hyland.

And Hyland himself commented the following week that he had never seen the Ballyboden man in such good physical shape.

"Because we did such a thorough recovery and rehab," he explains, "when you come back into the games, you have all the boxes ticked and you're ready to go. The last thing you wanted to be doing is being apprehensive about going into challenges and that sort of thing. The time when you probably get the most injuries is when you're hanging back a bit. You have to go full belt into everything."

That last sentence may be particularly poignant with regards to tomorrow's latest attempt of Kilkenny's monopolisation of Leinster.

If, says Hiney, Dublin are to compete, they must avoid "being blown out of it" as they were in last year's Leinster final and instead, "cut loose" as they did in the earlier league decider.

"We weren't ready for it on the day and they were at full tilt and they gave us a lesson.

"That was following on from the league victory where we just cut loose and in some ways, we did what Kilkenny do to a lot of teams and put a gap between ourselves and them."

An unblemished Leinster record for Kilkenny since 2005 is an fairly ominous record, one of which Hiney is acutely aware but he feels this year, Dublin are better placed than at any time in his career to challenge it.

"The physical fitness and readiness in the group is at an extremely high level coming into the championship," he points out.

"Things are lining up for ourselves in that respect and it's great for management to have a few tough choices with regard to team selection."

The group's wider spread of strength is another major improvement, as he underlines: "An important thing for us is our panel.

"That's a big thing. Over the years, Dublin might have had a strong team but not a strong panel and we've worked on that. The panel strength has come on a lot. The subs that come in, you expect to make an impact.

"And that's something Kilkenny have had for as long as I can remember. You really need to have that when you're competing at the highest level."

Hiney has played against Kilkenny at some point in every season of his senior career but doesn't recognise any consistent thread, just a pattern of excellence.

"I wouldn't say there is an exact recurrence of anything," Hiney notes. "It's just that Kilkenny are an extremely strong team.

"Their record speaks for itself. We know we have to be at the top of our game.

"But, the squad is extremely strong and extremely confident and just looking forward to the challenge," states Hiney.

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