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Rejigged Championship format may now work in Dublin's favour

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Dublin’s Chris Crummey, in action against Wexford in the Allianz Hurling League at Croke Park in February, has been redeployed as a forward

Dublin’s Chris Crummey, in action against Wexford in the Allianz Hurling League at Croke Park in February, has been redeployed as a forward

SPORTSFILE

Dublin’s Chris Crummey, in action against Wexford in the Allianz Hurling League at Croke Park in February, has been redeployed as a forward

In an interview with former player, Eamonn Fennell, for a series by the Dublin county board website called The Hop Ball back in May, Pat Gilroy explained the motivation behind his surprise decision to take over as manager of the county's senior hurlers in the winter of 2017.

"I felt these guys could really just do with a bit of structure and a bit of organisation and they could go a long way", he outlined.

"There's great talent amongst that group. And it was a big challenge…because I never went into a group that was as down as that group of players.

"And it was unnecessary. They shouldn't have been as down on themselves. But their confidence was shot as individuals.

"They had lost belief in themselves."

There has always been a boom/bust dynamic too the Dublin hurlers. Dizzying highs. Excruciating lows.

And after a season that ended in such desperate disappointment last year, followed by a harmless League campaign at the start of 2020, it's difficult to imagine they were burdened by over-confidence moving towards the Championship, such as it was back then.

Now?

In the checks and balances of which teams might have been most adversely affected by the sporting shutdown and for whom the interruption might have some benefit, the Dublin hurlers are surely the most obvious example of a team who should be in credit now.

To recap.

The League ended with the sort of dispiriting defeat to Clare that Dublin have specialised in whenever they visit Ennis.

Powerful

A week previous, in Croke Park, they lost to Wexford from a position of clear superiority.

Worse.

They led for almost the entire match and still two points in injury-time, at which stage Wexford had already had two men sent off.

And Chris Crummey, who technically qualified as Mattie Kenny's 'find' of the League due to his powerful reinvention as a forward, suffered a broken collar bone.

It seemed as though Dublin were heading towards the Championship without detectible form, any discernible confidence and arguably their best player.

This, to recall, was a competition that started with Dublin losing to 14-man Kilkenny in Nowlan Park in a performance all too reminiscent of the bad old days.

And Dublin aren't the sort of team who can simply turn their nose up at the League or instantly discard their own results and form in the competition by clicking into a higher gear for the start of Championship.

Particularly, when 2019, their first season under Mattie Kenny, had finished in such misery in Portlaoise.

The relevance of all of the above now is negligible.

The Clare result, Dublin's last competitive match, was on March 1, almost eight months ago.

The seasons have changed. Players have been through a full club campaign. Wounds have healed.

They may both technically be in the 2020 hurling season but there is enough separation between the end of Dublin's League and the start of the Championship in Croke Park tomorrow night that the two are completely unconnected.

That whatever 'form' Dublin showed in spring has been long discontinued.

Conal Keaney is back. Crummey is back.

And players like Donal Burke - who spent last summer in America - and James Madden displayed the sort of club-level form over the previous months to suggest they will add significantly to the team now.

As did some of the older players, like David Treacy and Paul Ryan.

There is a suspicion too, that the re-jigged format of this Championship will suit Dublin better than the old one.

Suffered

Though the round-robin style provincial championships used these past three has brought a welcome level of fairness to inter-county Championships, the scheduling has not.

And Dublin have probably suffered more than most.

Playing Kilkenny in their first match in 2018 and '19 brought inevitable challenges.

Meeting Wexford just a week later, a team who had a bye in round one, one physically fresh and focused on that particular game for the previous month, made it as tricky as it gets.

Certainly in Leinster.

Now, Dublin have the best draw available - albeit against a Laois team that sickened them last summer - and the comfort of knowing they are allowed one miscue between now and a provincial final.

There are a million unknowables about this hurling Championship but Dublin may well be the most inscrutable team in it.

Any team that that can beat Galway but lose to Laois two weeks later can justifiably be labelled as unpredictable.

Almost eight months after their last game, it's nearly impossible to know what form Dublin will take in Croke Park tomorrow evening, when they begin this most unique and bizarre of championships.

There is, however, opportunity in all this uncertainty. Nothing can be taken as a given anymore.

And it's up to Dublin now to seize the day.

  • Leinster SHC qf: Dublin v Laois, Live Sky Sports (Tom, 6.0)


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