Saturday 16 December 2017

Dublin already prone to growing pains

Steep learning curve for new batch with victory over Galway on Saturday now vital

Dublin hurling manager Ger Cunningham. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin hurling manager Ger Cunningham. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s David O’Callaghan in action against Brendan Maher (left) and Michael Cahill of Tipperary during the Allianz Hurling League match at Semple Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

There's a hardy coterie of Dublin hurling followers who ritually brazen occasions like last Saturday's drenched, finger-numbing night in Thurles.

At half-time in Semple Stadium, after they scuttled for shelter and then, looked to the match programme for potential Dublin salvation, they'll have naturally been struck by the disarming lack of experience on the listed bench.

Dublin laboured to score just 0-3 whilst conceding 1-9 to a team whose un-calibrated forwards also contrived to hit 10 wides by half-time.

But of the 11 names on the list of would-be saviours, only three; Gary Maguire, Darragh O'Connell, Colm Cronin had any Championship experience.

The rest; James Madden, Fionn Ó Riain-Broin, Cian MacGabhann, Fiontan MacGib, Oisín O'Rorke, Seán Treacy, Glenn Whelan and Séanie McGrath had three League appearances between them.


"That's where we are," shrugged Ger Cunningham afterwards, fully aware that these are potential perils of the managerial equivalent of attempting to build a house in the teeth one of those storms we've been having lots of lately.

"These are the decisions we've taken," he continued.

"These are the fellas we've decided to go with."

This, remember, was largely the same team that put together a faultless January before decamping to Johnstown House for a training weekend in advance of the competition beginning.

"That's the downside of having a lengthy injury list," he pointed out.

"We have six or seven guys who we can't consider at the moment and that's unfortunate."

These injuries may prove costly.

Whatever about his un-ripened reserves, Cunningham gave only two League debuts in his starting XV; Conor Dooley and Eoghan O'Donnell, though those absences to which he referred now seem more critical to the team's chances this year than they did on Saturday afternoon.

In an ideal, injury-less, suspensions-less, Ballyboden-less world, Liam Rushe, Peter Kelly, Shane Durkin and Paul Schutte would all have been available and as such, certainties to start in Cunningham's preferred defence.

Niall Corcoran, one of those long-term injured, finished last summer as a starting corner-back.

Of the above, only Rushe is definitely available on Saturday night against Galway, with Cunningham admitting he wasn't sure about Durkin's availability after 'Boden's win.

Of deeper curiosity then, was his experienced and heretofore, prolific forward line.

Dublin scored 12 points all night, creating not a single credible goal chance and had just four wides.

Bar the injured Ryan O'Dwyer or maybe Conal Keaney, there's nothing road-tested to bring in.

It is, of course, very early to be getting too excited about results and Dublin - or at least that section of the Dublin team who have been around for longer than a couple of seasons - have encouraging previous form here.

In round one of the 2014 League, they were beaten by 15 points by Galway in Salthill in similarly inclement conditions and came back to beat both Kilkenny and then All-Ireland champions, Clare later in the competition.

It is, even at this embryonic stage of the year, already imperative that they do so again.

After Galway, there's a two week break in the League before Dublin play Cork in Croke Park, a fixture that last year, brought a crushing 11-point defeat.

Their run-in then consists of two trips to the South East, firstly to Walsh Park to play Waterford and then, gruesomely, Nowlan Park.

All of which means that this young squad might have to grow up a bit quicker than is customary.

"It's a test of character," Cunningham acknowledged.

"We've a big challenge to face Galway next week and hopefully get a result at home to give ourselves a chance."

"It's probably more mental than anything else."

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