Helmets at the ready as Daly’s Dubs prepare for Tribes tie in Tullamore
FORGIVE us if this sounds like some tawdry Sky Sports advert hyping up the coming weekend as the biggest ‘Super Sunday’ since Jesus came down from his cross, but this Saturday evening really does hold out the promise of being a little bit special.
Strangely, even as we write, the Friends of Dublin Hurling have yet to send forth one of their frequent texts of entreaty, cajoling the sunshine wing of Hill 16 to embrace their small ball heroes. All we’ve got is a straight-forward missive with booking details if you want to take the bus to Tullamore.
For once, the FODH evangelists don’t have to hype up the event: even occasional fans with a passing interest in the Dublin hurlers are acutely aware of its significance.
We’ll go a step further: as this column reads it, this Leinster SHC semi-final against Galway is the most important championship match thus far in the two-and-a-half-year tenure of Anthony Daly.
What? Bigger than the 2009 Leinster final against Kilkenny? Or an All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick that same year?
Well, maybe not bigger, but more of a landmark game. It won’t necessarily break Dublin’s summer if they were to succumb on Saturday – but defeat will reopen all those old doubts about the team’s ability to take it to the next level.
We’ll put it this way. Since Daly arrived at the Donnycarney coalface, his team have achieved three minor milestones in summer combat: they’ve beaten Wexford in a 2009 Leinster semi-final, Clare in a 2010 qualifier, and Offaly in a Leinster quarter-final last month.
Once upon a golden era, Wexford, Clare and Offaly were all serious championship players – so good that they shared five consecutive All-Irelands between 1994 and ’98. Back then, Dublin were wallowing among the also-rans – they could only dream of eclipsing this high-flying trio.
That was then; today is a whole new vista for Dublin, whose ambitious cultivation of its underage crop is now bearing fruit on the senior stage.
This has been a case of incremental evolution in pursuit of revolution. Winning the National League offered the first definitive sign that Dublin have arrived as a serious senior force but they have yet to prove it on the championship stage.
It’s all very well beating a waning Wexford in championship for the first time in 19 summers (as happened in ’09) or doing likewise to a faltering and injury-depleted Faithful for the first time in 20 years (as happened on May 29).
Inflicting a similar punishment on Galway, though, would constitute something far more significant.
Yes, Galway have endured a rocky spring, have been bedevilled by injuries and were briefly threatened with disaster against Westmeath 10 days ago.
But they are still Galway – aka a major player. The bookies aren’t noted for their leaps of fancy and they still have the Tribesmen as favourites, albeit marginal ones. Joe Canning’s mere presence on the O’Connor Park pitch will have Dublin defensive hearts beating a little quicker.
And, lest we forget, 2011 also constitutes a watershed year for Galway hurling (“Isn’t every one?” we hear you riposte).
Like Daly, John McIntyre is in his third season; he is desperate to banish the ‘nearly men’ label that will continue to haunt Galway teams until they can turn agonising quarter-final defeats (by Waterford in ’09, Tipperary last year) into actual victories.
The stage is set but the script has yet to be penned. If you’re heading for Tullamore – and we advise strongly that you do – remember to bring a helmet.