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Dublin hope and history rhyme at last

'We were bringing everything to the table,' says Dotsy 'We were aggressive, in their faces - that raw hunger'

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Galway’s Fergal Moore is fouled by Dublin’s David O’Callaghan during the Leinster SHC Final at Croke Park in July 2013

Galway’s Fergal Moore is fouled by Dublin’s David O’Callaghan during the Leinster SHC Final at Croke Park in July 2013

SPORTSFILE

Galway’s Fergal Moore is fouled by Dublin’s David O’Callaghan during the Leinster SHC Final at Croke Park in July 2013

The man himself sums it up best in chapter 16 of his 2014 autobiography, Dalo. Dublin may have been waiting 52 years but the journey for Anthony Daly must have felt just as long, at times just as hopeless.

"Every time I used to go upstairs in Parnell Park, I would tip the photograph of the 1961 Leinster title-winning team and say to anyone alongside me or within earshot: 'We'll be there, we'll be the next crowd beside them.' We are up on the wall now.

The satisfaction after the 2013 Leinster final win was incredible. I knew how much it meant to Dublin but it was vindication for myself too. I was emotional because the journey had been dotted with so many days when I doubted myself, so many dog-days when everything collapsed around me, so many questions. How can I not get it right? Why am I not connecting with the boys? Am I too nice? Am I not enough of a mean, bad bastard? Looking for the answers tore me apart.

I couldn't hold back the tears because it hadn't been just the five years of emotion with Dublin which were welling up, there were three years with Clare too. I was finally able to say to myself, 'I can do this. I am able for this thing'."

*****

IT was the crowning glory of Anthony Daly's six years in the Donnycarney cockpit - not just because of its significance but because this was the day it all came together. The day hope and history rhymed with the poetry-in-motion of Dublin's hurling.

Okay, so Galway weren't at the races ... no matter. Consider some of the stats: Dublin's 2-25 haul included 2-21 from play and embraced ten different scorers.

The Herald player ratings for Dublin's starting 15 contained one 'six', three 'sevens', a towering eight 'eights' and a trio of 'nines' - our Man of the Match Conal Keaney, a high-fielding colossus on the day; Paul Ryan, who sniped 2-7, 2-3 from play; and David O'Callaghan, who exploded from the traps, shot 0-4 and delivered a key goal assist for Ryan's opener.

For 'Dotsy', no more than Daly, this was the apex of a journey from the depths of hell to the steps of the Hogan. "At that stage the team had been on the road a fair bit, so we had to make a statement - '13 was a point of maybe no return for the group," O'Callagan admits.

"If we had a flat 2013 championship, you'd imagine that would have been the end of it ... it would have been very hard to come back.

"And let's be honest, we could easily have been knocked out the first day in Wexford. It's such a thin margin."

Rescuing a draw in Wexford Park was both the performance nadir of 2013 and the catalyst for everything that followed.

Dublin togged out on five consecutive weekends through June and into July, winning the Wexford replay with eight points to spare, drawing with Kilkenny and then, on their return to Portlaoise, famously refusing to read the 'Cody always wins the replay' script.

Given their fraught and frequently torturous history with those men in stripes, beating Kilkenny at the second attempt did more for soaring belief than everything that went before. As for playing week on week? Bring it on!

"I don't think there's any sort of fatigue at that stage. Certainly not when you're a team who have never won a Leinster championship," O'Callaghan stresses.

"In the week of that Galway game, I just remember the training being absolutely … you talk about getting to a zone where everyone was at it. I remember playing a (practice) match on the Wednesday, and everyone was just so in tune, everything was flowing, everyone was so up for it.

"Now, I'm not saying that you're going to have a great performance, but there was no way we were going to give a flat display. After beating Kilkenny, you really couldn't afford not to."

DOTSY had been there before Dalo and throughout the six years that followed. "He injected that belief and, I know it's going back to his personality, but at the end of the day you're talking about the ability to bring the whole thing together," the now-retired forward explains.

"Anthony Daly was calling players; they were certainly sitting down and listening to him and wanting to be a part of the set-up. It was a good thing to be a part of Dublin hurling ... (he was) a very hard guy to turn down.

"And I think he secretly wants to be a Dub! I've seen him say he wants to be a northsider, but I texted him and said you'd have won f*** all without the southsiders!

"I think he loved Dublin. I think he just had a genuine love for it."

That is not to say the relationship was one long, relentless love-in. For Daly, one of the worst dog-days came in Portlaoise, against Kilkenny in 2012, when they lost by 18 points. "If we gathered up 20 at the Red Cow and came down this morning, it could hardly have been worse," the shellshocked Clareman lamented.

"We weren't too happy with him," O'Callaghan now confides of that headline-grabbing quote. "He could get a bit stroppy now at times; I can recall him coming training and storming off.

"But that was all part of it, the ups and downs. Jesus, there was serious lows where lads couldn't even look at each other in dressing-rooms after matches. It was horrific stuff … sure, the atmosphere would be absolutely toxic.

"But then you'd come back and try to get it right - and then you'd get it right and, sure, everyone is f***ing loving each other!"

After the twin 2012 horrors of Kilkenny and Clare, Dublin got back on the horse the next spring. "There was a nice buzz in the camp," O'Callaghan discloses. They secured top-flight league promotion after squeezing past Limerick in the Division 1B decider.

Between that and a league semi-final, against Tipp, the squad headed for a weekend in Bere Island, off the west Cork coast. This was no holiday camp; more like an induction into the Marines.

"A savage training camp," O'Callaghan winces. "Just really, really intense, tough stuff. (Stephen) Hiney was a diabetic, all sorts of injuries as well, and he was the guy who kept coming back … and we were all standing around looking at him, he was a real warrior.

"We absolutely slogged it. Gary Maguire nearly attacked one of the rangers; the army guys were in our faces straight away when we got off the boat.

"We got hammered a week later against Tipp, but I think our minds were more focussed on later."

FOR some, 2013 was not just a year of Dublin deliverance but also the one that got away. Four relatively unheralded semi-finalists, Kilkenny and Tipp both departed. Dublin and Cork in a shootout for the final. The 'what ifs?' over Ryan O'Dwyer's sending-off. "A golden opportunity," Dotsy reflects - and a lost one.

Yet, in conclusion, he prefers to accentuate the positives. Ryan's two goals either side of half-time, the second a finish of thunderbolt conviction, left them 11 clear and in dreamland. Despite a fleeting comeback, when Joe Canning and David Burke buried a brace of goals, Galway were pulverised almost everywhere. Including the scoreboard, as a flurry of six late scores made it a 12-point game.

Best performance

Dublin's best performance of the Daly era? "I think so, yeah," O'Callaghan agrees. "I don't think it mattered even who we played. We were in that zone. The hurling was really quality, and everyone was hurling with real confidence. From my point of view anyway, that would be a standout.

"In hurling you can have your skill levels and stuff like that, but we were bringing everything to the table. We were aggressive, in their faces - that raw hunger.

"You talk about putting the foot on the opposition's throat … we were on the receiving end where a good team can kind of smell (vulnerability) and would go after you. I think we were going after them."

And going after history.

SCORERS - Dublin: P Ryan 2-7 (0-4f), D O'Callaghan 0-4, R O'Dwyer 0-3, J McCaffrey, J Boland, C Keaney, C McCormack 0-2 each, M Carton, D Sutcliffe, S Lambert 0-1 each. Galway: J Canning 1-7 (0-4f), D Burke 1-0, C Cooney 0-2, I Tannian, J Regan, A Harte, J Glynn 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Schutte, P Kelly; S Hiney, L Rushe, M Carton; J McCaffrey, J Boland; C Keaney, R O'Dwyer, D Sutcliffe; D Treacy, P Ryan, D O'Callaghan. Subs: M Schutte for C Keaney (31-33 blood), O Gough for P Schutte (inj 55), S Durkin for J McCaffrey (57), M Schutte for D O'Callaghan (60), S Lambert for R O'Dwyer (67).

GALWAY: J Skehill; F Moore, K Hynes, J Cooney; J Coen, S Kavanagh, D Collins; I Tannian, J Regan; D Burke, C Cooney, C Donnellan; J Canning, D Glennon, N Burke. Subs: A Smith for Regan (22), A Harte for Donnellan (ht), J Glynn for Glennon (45), A Callanan for J Cooney (63).

REF: J Ryan (Tipperary)