Saturday 7 December 2019

Dubs in a Rushe as Tribe ponder a Joe show ...

Leinster SHC, Dublin v Galway, Parnell Park (Tomorrow, 7pm)

Joe Canning ahead of the Leinster SHC match between Kilkenny and Galway at Nowlan Park last weekend
Joe Canning ahead of the Leinster SHC match between Kilkenny and Galway at Nowlan Park last weekend

As Dublin and Galway hurlers won their most recent Leinster SHC contests, in very different circumstances, a wounded talisman from either camp was watching on.

Liam Rushe was in Innovate Cullen Park to see his Sky Blue comrades cruise to a 12-point win over Carlow. A week later, Joe Canning was witness to a Nowlan Park firecracker as his fellow Tribesmen edged Kilkenny by a point.

But now the championship clock is ticking, and one of the intriguing sub-plots to tomorrow's Parnell Park showdown is whether Dublin can stay alive in the race for the Liam MacCarthy cup without Rushe, and whether Galway can survive without Canning?

Surely, given the do-or-die backdrop, it's a risk worth taking? But that presupposes that either is sufficiently match-fit to contribute in a positive way.

Canning has been out for much longer, since damaging his groin against Waterford in the league semi-final on March 24. The injury led to surgery and an expected 14-16 week lay-off. Tomorrow's clash is a day shy of 12 weeks since the Déise game.


Still, rumours have been circulating that Galway were targeting Parnell Park for his return. Micheál Donoghue was typically non-committal after the Kilkenny game, albeit confirming he was back in collective training the previous week.

"He has hit all his markers. He is coming good. We will see how it goes," the manager added.

For Galway, it's a real conundrum. Ideally they would love to give Canning another fortnight - for a potential Leinster final. Even if they lose tomorrow, they will stay in the All-Ireland race once a clear winner emerges from the simultaneous Wexford/Kilkenny clash. But if Dublin win, and there's deadlock in the south-east, Galway are out - scoring-difference fall guys in a four-way tie.

The nightmare scenario? They don't name Canning on the bench, and the above prospect is looming large with ten or 15 minutes remaining.

That's why some Galway observers are adamant that their leader will be togged, although there would appear little prospect of his inclusion on the official starting '15' to be released tonight.

The situation facing Rushe - and Mattie Kenny - is different. The two-time All-Star, who turns 29 next week, has endured an injury-disrupted year.

An ongoing hand problem limited his league involvement, but he was back for their round-robin opener in Kilkenny and duly won two first-half penalties, yielding 1-1 for Seán Moran. But an ankle injury struck in the second half; a week later he was strapped up for the Wexford game and again showed his ball-winning prowess close to goal.

In a roller-coaster second half, he earned that pivotal free in injury-time from which Moran struck a priceless equalising goal.

Rushe missed the Carlow tie, after which Kenny said: "He wasn't right at all ... he has ligament damage on his ankle so it's something we're working on."

Asked about his chances of facing Galway, the manager would only say: "Look it, Liam is one of the great Dublin warriors and Liam will do everything he can to try to be right for that."


For so long, Rushe has been Dublin's go-to man in a crisis. With summer ambitions on a precipice, there is a feeling that he'll be patched up for battle.

"Someone with the experience and the physicality of Liam Rushe in the full-forward line could really cause problems," reckons Niall Corcoran, the Galway native who hurled for Dublin.

"While he might not be fully fit, if you get him for 20-25 minutes in a game like that which is essentially a do-or-die game … certainly if I was on the line I'd be looking at bringing him in.

"It's the same with Joe Canning: he's central to Galway. While Jason Flynn on Sunday was excellent from play, some of the frees he missed ... with Joe on the pitch they're going over."

According to Corcoran, Rushe's mobility can be overlooked. "People think of him as a big guy, but he's actually hugely athletic. I feel sometimes people forget that he can get around the pitch."

You'd hope that maybe Liam's match fitness is ahead of what Joe's might be. But, from a Dublin point of view, with Rushe inside, he does cause havoc," says Corcoran.

"If you're coming up against Daithí Burke in a Galway full-back line, you do need that presence, let's be honest.

"If the Dublin management have been holding him for this game, it could be a master stroke," says Corcoran.

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