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Monday 23 July 2018

Gilroy's Dublin recover from Offaly no-show

Dublin manager Pat Gilroy
Dublin manager Pat Gilroy

Sunday afternoon in Belfast couldn't have been further removed from the plush modernity of Croke Park, eight days previously.

The Dublin hurlers were in Corrigan Park for their second Allianz League outing. They were under pressure after a lamentable Croker performance against Offaly; instead of launching the Pat Gilroy era, it had kickstarted a rush of (admittedly premature) post-mortems that demanded a defiant response.

Dublin got it, for the most part, against Antrim.

A battling one-point win on enemy turf was just the oracle. And yet? If Antrim's late comeback had yielded the 'moral victory' draw it promised after Neil McManus launched his projectile free from somewhere in North Korea to tie the contest on 74 minutes, how would the post-match debate have been framed?

It would have read: How did Dublin lose a five-point lead in the home straight? To Antrim!

Enhances

Victory has altered the landscape, though. It greatly enhances the chances of reaching the league quarter-finals and, conversely, reduces the possibility of a relegation play-off.

Even if they lose to Limerick and Galway, their final outing in Laois qualifies as eminently winnable - surely enough to safeguard Division 1B status.

There was a time when escaping 1B would have been a Sky Blue priority; but it's not just the divisional presence of a certain All-Ireland heavyweight that has dampened expectations.

Gilroy himself summed up Dublin's place in hurling's world order.

"We're well aware of the task facing us. When we took this on, the team wasn't in a great place," he reminded.

"We're trying to build something here and it's hard.

"We're asking guys to do things that wasn't exactly the way they were doing things before, and they're applying themselves.

"It didn't happen last week; it happened for the vast majority (on Sunday). But it was important to get a win here. It was a difficult place to come."

What pleased Gilroy most was Dublin's work ethic. And maybe, in retrospect, it was no harm that round two was taking place off Belfast's Whiterock Road, not the Jones's Road.

With the ongoing closure of Casement Park, this was like a trip back in time: Corrigan Park was Antrim GAA's first county home, the grassy knolls a telltale flashback to a bygone era.

This observer bumped into Jimmy Gray (along with former Dublin boss Humphrey Kelleher) before throw-in; two diehards who will follow their team to every corner of the country. On his last trip to the venue, Jimmy had been playing … he didn't care to try and remember when.

It was an eye-opener for us scribes accustomed to Croker's high-tech comforts: no press box and so we took up sentry standing on the line, camped between the dugouts.

What was lost in aerial perspective was gained in proximity to the battle. You could audibly hear and clearly see what it meant as players thundered into challenges on a soft pitch; as they squared up; as they implored the referee.

It was a battle, an engaging one, and Dublin prevailed. The war is a long way from winning but, post-Offaly, this will do for belated starters.

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