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Kenny's eye on building identity

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MOMENTUM: Mattie Kenny says Dublin were in a better place coming out of the league. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

MOMENTUM: Mattie Kenny says Dublin were in a better place coming out of the league. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

MOMENTUM: Mattie Kenny says Dublin were in a better place coming out of the league. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Kilkenny in Parnell Park last Sunday, Davy Fitzgerald's Leinster kingpins in Wexford Park this Sunday … we are currently immersed in the most important week of Mattie Kenny's second year as Dublin hurling manager.

Or rather, in a parallel, pre-Covid-19 universe, we would be.

Like all of their rivals, Dublin are in a vacuum, unsure when their next seasonal outing will happen - if at all.

And that explains Kenny's sobering admission that "in the last few weeks we've found it really, really difficult. Players now are becoming a little bit disillusioned, lacking motivation, because the goalposts are constantly moving."

The only thing we know for sure is that there won't be any GAA activity so long as social distancing remains a public health prerequisite (because John Horan has told us so) … and even if inter-county hurling does return at the back end of 2020, it won't be in the guise of a provincial round-robin campaign and its in-built guarantee of four chances to prove yourself.

Last summer, in Kenny's maiden campaign, Dublin needed almost every last minute of those four games to qualify for the All-Ireland series. Chris Crummey sealed a famous four-point victory over Galway, late in a pulsating day, with his side's third goal in Parnell Park.

"We didn't knock Galway out!" Kenny protested during a lengthy interview on Galway Bay FM this week.

Technically he was correct - the simultaneous deadlock between Wexford and Kilkenny was just as pivotal to the Tribesmen's exit - but you can be sure the Galway native was acutely aware of his local audience.

What happened next - Dublin's shock defeat to Laois - upped the ante for Kenny entering year two.

A cursory glance at this year's aborted Allianz League might suggest the pressure was mounting: Dublin's victories came against unheralded opposition (Laois and Carlow) and were countered by heavy defeats to Kilkenny and Clare sandwiching a painful late loss to Wexford.

All of which meant that, even before the GAA lockdown, Dublin's league was over.

But Kenny is adamant that, despite perceptions to the contrary, he gained more from this year's campaign than the previous one.

"Last year we tried to get a good league under our belts. We won Division 1B and got beaten by Limerick in the semi-final," he recalled.

"This year we were really happy with the way the league went for us because we tried out a lot of players, we introduced new players to the team, and guys who didn't feature as much last year as we'd have liked … the likes of James Madden, Daire Gray, Donal Burke, Davy Keogh, Paul Crummey, Seán Brennan in goals.

"These lads were getting good league time this year, which was making our squad stronger.

"People will say, 'Well, you didn't do as well in the league this year as last year' … but overall we probably did better because we're in a better place coming out of it."

The obvious worry, though, is that Dublin have expanded their squad for a season that might never happen.

And yet building for the long-term remains a priority for the man who has already transformed the face of Dublin hurling via those back-to-back All-Ireland club titles with Cuala.

Asked about playing under the Dublin footballers' shadow, he acknowledged that hurling is "very much a minority sport" led by "five or six really strong clubs, but after that the standard drops off a bit."

While the footballers are a "very well-oiled machine", the hurlers remain "totally" focussed on their own mission.

"We have to create our own identity," he said, "build the momentum and build the support around ourselves.

"There's some really, really good hurling people and they're very committed and put in a lot of work to make sure that we're constantly raising the standard.

"I think we're getting there; it's just going to take time. But looking at this Dublin senior squad - they've a lot of good players in there. They're hugely committed. They want to improve, they want to learn."