Dublin’s hero richly deserves Man of the Match award on his 21st birthday
Dublin 0-19 Galway 2-7
LIAM RUSHE stands beaming like a Buddha in the wide concrete tunnel separating the Dublin and Galway dressing rooms under the terrace in O'Connor Park.
It's Rushe's 21st birthday, a fact relayed earlier by Anthony Daly who disclosed the information with a disclaimer: “I'm delighted for him. He won't be having any alcohol though.” Meanwhile, Rushe has already told RTÉ that his stated choice of present is a surf board. Instead, he has settled for the Man of the Match award for unnerving excellence in Dublin's trimming of Galway and a spot in the Leinster final.
Crystalware in hand, he stops for a chat as gaelige with Seán Bán Breathnach, then takes a few questions in English and signs a few match programmes. Rushe is, by nature, seemingly unflappable. He's being pulled hither and thither by TV, radio and newspaper people, autograph seekers and county board officials, but, typically, takes it all firmly in his stride. “Bit of luck, bit of destiny,” is how he sums up the day, Dublin's best day yet in the slow-burning revolution which has now suddenly cranked into overdrive.
“We went out and it was a massive battle but we relish every minute of it. We weren't looking for the final whistle there at the end. We might have been a man down but we just kept going. “The old Dublin would have panicked. The old Dublin might have been dying for the final whistle and hitting balls aimlessly over the sideline. But that's the old Dublin way.” The old Dublin way might also have had Rushe much further up the field. His initial breakthrough as a forward surprised a choir of learned Dublin hurling people who would testify to centre-back being the position best suited and most deserving of his talents.
His performance there against Offaly scarcely a week after shaking off a virus didn't lend that theory any credibility, though. On Saturday, when Tomás Brady fell foul of another knee injury and Peter Kelly slotted in at full-back, Rushe produced possibly his finest display in a Dublin shirt back at the position he knows best. “Fellas were giving out about him playing there against Offaly,” said Daly afterwards. “But we could see in Carlow last week with the under-21s that he was back to his best. There's no better man in the air. That bit of Miltown Malbay breeding breaks out through him every so often as well!” Down the corridor, Niall Corcoran is answering the same questions he gets asked every time Dublin and Galway clash in the league. Is it weird to be playing against your native county?
Corcoran, now four years an honorary Dub, has a more definite answer this time. “When I played with Galway I never made the breakthrough,” he says. “Guys thought that I wasn't good enough. I suppose today was about making a bit of a point on my own behalf as well. I think I did that. Personally, I'm very happy with that.” Captain, Johnny McCaffrey, comes along for a yap too. Days like these were predicted since he and Joey Boland and Brady sprouted in unison onto the senior scene as teenagers.More than anyone, his attitude and dedication exemplify what's different about Dublin this year and the messages he has preached now show tangible signs of coming to fruition. Dublin conceded a goal and a man within minutes of a second-half that was gradually turning against them. Was it a sense of backs to the walls?
“No,” states McCaffrey defiantly. “That's been our thing all year. When things have gone wrong, we step up to the plate. Ryan (O'Dwyer) went off today and we got the next three or four scores after that. That's what we've been doing all year.” INTELLIGENCE The potential for things to go wrong against a Galway team oddly lacking wherewithal, craft or collective hurling intelligence is nothing compared to that which Kilkenny will bring to Croke Park in two weeks time. Hell hath no fury and all that. Dublin's record against the Cats in all competitions this year reads: Played 3, won 2, drawn 1, lost 0. Next Sunday week, they will clash for a fourth time, the level of importance of each meeting multiplying each time.
“They will be ready and waiting for us,” says Alan McCrabbe, never one to doff his cap at hurling's aristocracy. “It should be a good game. But like I've been saying all year, if we go out and perform, we have every chance of winning the game and lifting that cup. “We believed since the start of the year that there's a Leinster title in this team. We've just been proving it to everyone else with every win.” Rushe, meanwhile, is weighing up the prospect, lacing every sentence with positive thoughts.
“The league and the championship are two completely different animals,” he states. “You saw that there against Wexford. They got a few lads back – a few legends really. “But we've come on ourselves. We're getting better all the time. A bit quicker, faster, more mature,” he smiles before adding: “It' ll be fun...won't it?!”