Liam Rushe: We've hit the ground running because of our winter workload
Blues are looking sharper because of winter workload under new manager
LIAM RUSHE has only ever played under two inter-county bosses, and he's still getting to know his second one.
But, as a direct consequence of Dublin's recent change of manager and the early-season workload taken on by the players under Ger Cunningham, he reckons the team has never been as sharp for this time of year.
The proof is in the points: two wins from two at the outset of this year's Allianz Hurling League, leaving Dublin in early pole position to claim a Division One quarter-final berth rather than looking in the wing-mirror at a potential relegation play-off.
So far, Rushe has been adjusting to a new position under Cunningham - or rather, readjusting to an old one, full-forward, where he started out as a precocious Dublin senior six years ago.
It remains a work-in-progress but the team itself is flying, courtesy of back-to-back wins over last year's All-Ireland finalists. They scored 2-20 against Tipperary en route to a rousing 12-point triumph; and followed up with a 0-25 to 3-11 defeat of Kilkenny - Dublin's first victory over the Cats on enemy terrain in half-a-century.
"It's a great start," Rushe told The Herald. "I hadn't actually thought about that - the All-Ireland champions and the challengers (both beaten). But as I said, everyone is at different stages of preparation for championship.
"People have their year planned differently and, with the new man in, we probably are looking to hit the ground running and maybe have a lot more work under our belts.
"So, I wouldn't write them off just yet!"
By "them", presumably, he means Tipp and Kilkenny - and it's a valid point. Brian Cody's constricted options have been well documented: when the non-retired Cats return from injury and Ballyhale club duty, the All-Ireland champions will be an entirely different proposition.
Moreover, when Kilkenny were sunning it up in Miami at the start of the year, Dublin were already well advanced in their pre-season ahead of a Walsh Cup campaign that extended until the final.
According to Rushe, Dublin "probably are" sharper than in previous seasons but there are obvious reasons for this.
"A lot of fresh faces. A lot of lads looking to nail down spots. When you have competition, you are going to inevitably raise the standard," he pointed out.
"There's lads pushing and looking to nail down league spots in the build-up for championship. It was the same with the Walsh Cup.
"We probably rarely have been as sharp coming into Walsh or league games as we have this year."
This is reflected in the February scoring stats, even if Rushe curiously failed to build on his 1-1 haul against Tipp on a day when his forward colleagues were going point-crazy against Kilkenny.
The team already had 0-23 on the board inside 50 minutes; yet Rushe, for all his application, saw one first-time pull veer wide, had another shot blocked and failed to trouble the scoreboard.
It made you wonder how the two-time All Star might have relished playing in his old centre-back stomping ground, especially as current No 6 Peter Kelly - playing in the free role against 14 Kilkenny men - mopped up a whole series of aimlessly directed deliveries during the third-quarter.
Dublin were far less controlled when Kilkenny went down to 13 - proof that even team table-toppers have scope for improvement.
"The game just got a bit frenetic," he admitted. "With Peter Kelly loose, he just hoovered up ball - I mean, he must have had a pain in his wrist pucking ball.
"But then, when they lost a second man, we were probably guilty of losing our own shape as well. Especially when a team goes all out for goals, it's kinda hard to stop so it was a chaotic final few minutes."
Rushe is already looking forward to Croke Park on March 7 and a tilt at Cork. But at this time of year, while four points from four constitutes a "dream position", he cautioned: "You're going to have different lads being tried out on different days and you might have different strength teams being put out on different days. So, the league isn't all about victory every day. You're trying to blood new players and get lads experienced.
"Sure look, I'm in full-forward and (Conal) Keaney's at wing-back ... it's great that we've been able to try things out and get wins under our belt as well."