| 6°C Dublin

Can Dublin finally lay siege on Ennis?

Kenny's men out to banish the ghosts of Cusack Park

Close

TOUGH PLACE TO GO: Dublin’s Liam Rushe takes on Clare’s Jamie Shanahan during their Allianz Hurling League Division 1 relegation play-off at Cusack Park in Ennis, back in April 2017. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

TOUGH PLACE TO GO: Dublin’s Liam Rushe takes on Clare’s Jamie Shanahan during their Allianz Hurling League Division 1 relegation play-off at Cusack Park in Ennis, back in April 2017. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

TOUGH PLACE TO GO: Dublin’s Liam Rushe takes on Clare’s Jamie Shanahan during their Allianz Hurling League Division 1 relegation play-off at Cusack Park in Ennis, back in April 2017. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

This Sunday will be very different to the first Saturday in July, 2012. And maybe that's just as well for a group of Dublin hurlers not only licking their wounds after Wexford's smash-and-grab, but hoping to finally banish the ghosts of Ennis.

A trawl through the history books confirms that Dublin have lost every previous competitive outing in Cusack Park. That translates into 11 consecutive league defeats and one championship trauma, the 2012 qualifier alluded to above.

Back then, in a pre-match statement of defiance, Dublin manager Anthony Daly marched his men in blue through the streets of his beloved Ennis to the venue ... but 14 Claremen had the last laugh.

This Sunday, safe to say, there will be far less sulphur in the air. Or there should be, at any rate.

Clare have already qualified for the Allianz Hurling League knockout stages, having accumulated a hugely impressive seven points from a possible eight.

Mattie Kenny's Dublin still have a theoretical chance but, deep down, they know the score: they blew it in stoppage-time against Wexford last Saturday, and neither Laois (against Kilkenny) nor Carlow (against Wexford) is about to throw them the unlikeliest of lifelines now.

Barren

However, even if Dublin's campaign is poised to peter out prematurely, they might never have a better chance to end that barren record at Banner HQ.

For the record, Dublin have previously won in Ennis - in April 1927, the counties' very first league meeting, when the visitors coasted home by 2-4 to 0-1. But that took place in the Ennis Showgrounds - Cusack Park wasn't built until the following decade.

Ever since, they have continuously tried and failed to lay siege on Ennis.

Eleven league collisions at Cusack Park have delivered 11 defeats - including two in 2017, when Dublin lost their regulation fixture by just two points but then a relegation play-off by eight.

Their only championship encounter came eight years ago, against a fraught backdrop that had seen Dublin pulverised by Kilkenny in Portlaoise while Clare were also licking their provincial wounds after losing to Waterford.

Their 'back door' rendezvous brought about a sideline reunion between two Clare legends: Daly, in his fourth year at the Dublin helm, and Davy Fitzgerald, in his maiden Banner campaign. What followed gives you a taste of Daly's driven mindset - but also the hothouse atmosphere that Cusack Park is famous for.

Dublin were based in the Temple Gate Hotel, in the middle of town. "I told my players that my long-dead father had graced the same place before a big game, he had made the same journey that we were going to make now," he recalled in Dalo, his 2015 autobiography.

"We were going to march up through the town, through my own people. It was not in my DNA to bring a team to Clare to go to war against them. But I told the players, 'By God, I am willing to do this for ye.'

"When we left the hotel to make the journey by foot, I led the posse. Some people were half shocked. Others were seeking a response, but they knew not to look at me twice. I was charged up on a cocktail of emotion and tension."

On reaching the dressing-room, Daly had to compose himself for five minutes. Meanwhile, he recalled, the war-cry from the Clare dressing-room was: "They're after walking up through our town. Who the f*** do they think they are?"

Dublin and their then-manager don't need reminding what transpired. Clare's Nicky O'Connell was sent off early in the second half and Dublin moved six clear ... but then the numerically challenged hosts started to turn the screw.

"After the sending-off it was if the Park had been transformed into the Türk Telekom Arena in Istanbul, where Galatasaray play. And we felt like Fenerbahçe on the run," wrote Daly.

The march home was a lot more sheepish, Clare prevailing by 1-16 to 0-16.

Derailed

Dublin have enjoyed a modicum of success against Clare on home turf - in the guise of the Kickhams club, they won the second ever All-Ireland final (1889) against Tulla in Inchicore, while Dalo's Dubs derailed his home county by 13 points in a 2010 qualifier.

But perhaps the biggest impediment to Dublin this Sunday (2pm) is not their history in Ennis but the fact that Cusack Park is a modern-day fortress.

Even though Clare's form since their 2013 All-Ireland win has been more miss than hit, their home record is phenomenal. In that period, from 2014 onwards, they have hosted 24 league and championship games, winning 19, drawing twice and losing just three times.

The weight of history, both ancient and recent, is against the Dubs.