Teething problems surround Dublin's season
AS preparations for a season-salvaging qualifier with Limerick in Thurles go, Michael Carton’s defection from the Dublin hurling panel wasn’t what you’d call ideal.
There is then, a greater uncertainty over Dublin now ahead tomorrow’s trip to Semple Stadium to play a Munster cruiser-weight, one in which defeat would put a rusted tin hat on a wretched season, but where a win could force reparation.
And it’s not just attributable to their mind-boggling oscillations in form/consistency.
Because Carton, a hugely popular and ultra committed member of the Dublin panel, and his decision to leave mid-summer can only partly be explained by his non-selection last week in Portlaoise.
Certainly, the sort of harmony lines hummed between management and players for most of Anthony Daly’s time in charge hasn’t yet been orchestrated by Ger Cunningham.
Someone had to say it. And Humphrey Kelleher - normally quite the tranquil interviewee - decided this week that he was just that man.
“Michael, after Alan
McCrabbe earlier this year, is the second member of the Dublin panel who has walked away in 2015. It is a very disappointing development,” said Kelleher in a newspaper interview, blaming Cunningham for the O’Toole’s man’s loss.
Which isn’t strictly true.
Ross O’Carroll also left the set up having began the League in Cunningham’s preferred midfield and his exit - to concentrate on preparations for a club football match - seemed to baffle the new manager.
And to be fair about it,
McCrabbe has spent periods of self-imposed inter-county exile under both Daly’s and Tommy Naughton’s management.
The other arrow aimed directly at Cunningham by Kelleher was over his team selection.
Firstly, over the early-year experimentation and then, over the selection of youth over experience for the Laois match, a policy that saw Carton not just relegated to the bench in favour of a
19-year-old Shane Barrett, but as an unused sub when Shane Durkin was brought in as a blood replacement for the young Na Fianna man.
Certainly, you couldn’t say many of Cunningham’s realignments worked.
Liam Rushe up front? Michael Carton at
full-back? Keaney at half-back?
The one that might, had Cunningham persevered, have turned into a long-term reposting was Peter Kelly at number six.
But he’s needed at full-back and so, as each new leak sprung, Cunningham had - from that clichéd intention of ‘putting his own stamp on the team’ - arrived at a line-up not irrevocably estranged from Daly’s.
Until the Laois game.
“That’s it, like. That’s the thing. This thing of ‘Daly’s team’ were there for six years. It’s time for fresh blood now.’
“You have to pick the best available that you think are going to give you the best chance,” says Daly (left) himself. A bit like when I took on Clare in 2004. Everyone said it was time to get rid of Lohan and McMahon. There was no 3 and 6 like Lohan and McMahon in Clare.
“I was charged with putting out the best team I could. And winning an All-Ireland was my target. I mean, until someone puts up their hand and says they’re better in training and challenge matches ... you put out your best.
“And Ger has just got to do that.”
And better to arrive belatedly at our best team than not at all.
Kelleher, of course, had his own problems with player unrest during his stint as Dublin manager but he’s also close enough to the scene to detect unease.
Against that, several Dublin players are on record this year as stating that Cunningham’s unfamiliarity with the team was in some ways beneficial and his selection policy, thus fair.
“It doesn’t matter to him, he is going to play the lads who are on form,” said Keaney back in February. “Nearly with Daly, he was nearly too loyal to players, you know?
“He always picked what he thought was the best team, even if they were on form or not.”
What Cunningham has most clearly realised is that - almost uniquely to Dublin - the manager must make it work for the established squad.
That the well of alternatives is that bit more shallow.
“It is a bit,” Daly explained
“But the same in Clare then as well. We didn’t have as much coming through. We had a few, like. We had the Tony Griffins and the Tony Carmodys and Gerry Quinn. But we hadn’t enough.
“We were still depending on Davy and Lynch and Jamesie and Baker. It can be hard to find replacements.
“The idea of putting Rushie up as a target man ... there was a lot of admire about that. But at the end of the day, if you don’t have a better six, you have to go with him (Liam Rushe) at six.”