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Sunday 17 December 2017

Dublin need to sort out Croker malaise

Line-up beginning to look very familiar as pieces fall into place for Cunningham

Liam Rushe, Dublin, in action against Paul Kileen, Galway
Liam Rushe, Dublin, in action against Paul Kileen, Galway

IT was after Cork came to Croke and decimated Dublin that Ger Cunningham asserted "if we're going to be successful, Croke Park is where it's going to be."

How that perfectly reasonable sentiment tallied with yesterday's decision of the CCCC to fix Dublin's 'home' League quarter-final with Limerick in Croke Park, rather than Parnell Park, only the Corkman will know.

Because not since March 2011 have Dublin been beaten in Parnell Park.

Their record on Jones' Road over the same stretch, by comparison, is wretched.

So far this year, they've played one and been hammered once by Cork, not long after losing the Walsh Cup final to Galway.

Last year, while playing both of their home League games in Parnell (beating Clare and Kilkenny there too) they lost badly to Kilkenny in the Leinster final and the Walsh Cup decider.

Indeed Dublin's last win in Croker was the 2013 Leinster hurling final. Their last League win there was the League final victory over Kilkenny in 2011.

So if the big picture does naturally involve Dublin winning in Croke Park as a central theme and thus any experience there welcomed, for the simple continuation of their League campaign into a semi-final, Parnell Park would have been an eternally more amenable option.

Still, a few issues were tied up by Dublin on Sunday.

Relegation avoided? Quarter-final spot earned? Mini rot stopped?

Check, check and check again.

The captaincy's sorted too, with Cunninhgam confirming Liam Rushe and Peter Kelly as co-captains for the season.

Where he will eventually use them on the pitch still isn't entirely certain.

Kelly, having started the League at centre-back and having made a pitch for a long-term stint with a couple of big performances against Tipperary and Kilkenny, found himself at full-back on Sunday in Parnell Park and Dublin felt noticeably more secure for his relocation.

With both Cian O'Callaghan and Paul Schutte having fine games in the corners of the Dublin defence, Cunningham could - if he decides none of the trio were required elsewhere - sign off on his summer full-back line right now.

Rushe's case is yet more uncertain.

Having devoured Clare in the first half in Ennis eight day prior, he was one of the few Dublin forwards not to sparkle in Parnell on Sunday, though his point was both well-taken and crucial to Dublin's momentum.

Cunningham repeated: "there's no guarantee he'll be playing there in the summer," but knows too that no other player on his panel offers what Rushe does on a good day i.e. ball-winning and physicality close to goal.

ROBUST

Noticeably, Rushe has found frees hard to come by, with referees less inclined to blow for fouls on such a robust full-forward in all of Dublin's League matches to date.

Kelly's move back could facilitate Rushe's repatriation with the number six jersey he won his second All Star in.

Yet with Dotsy O'Callaghan stitching good performances together on successive weekends and Ryan O'Dwyer showing new management his worth after coming on as a half-time substitute for Eamonn Dillon, the Dublin team is starting to have a very familiar look to it.

One area seemingly in a constant state of flux, however, is midfield.

Thus far, five different players have started in the two central positions in the League, namely Ross O'Carroll, Simon Lambert, Colm Cronin, Shane Durkin and Niall McMorrow.

Another two, McCaffrey and Ben Quinn, have come on as subs while a further five - the injured Joey Boland among them - played there in the Walsh Cup.

Indeed Sunday was McCaffrey's first exposure to League hurling as a substitute for the injured Lambert, while McMorrow was arguably one of the most influential players of the second half.

Yet for all the soothing qualities a win like Sunday's had, Cunningham still summoned perspective.

Stressing it was merely, "a League match in the middle of March, it's very early days," the Cork nati ve added: "But it was important for us to win."

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