herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

This Blues revival puts Deise in shade

Dillon leads charge as Dubs reach play-offs and end Waterford run

Dublin manager Ger Cunningham celebrates at the final whistle in Walsh Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin manager Ger Cunningham celebrates at the final whistle in Walsh Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Eamon Dillon (right) in action against Barry Coughlan of Waterford at Walsh Park Photo: Sportsfile

How many of you saw this one coming on that dank Saturday night in Semple? Dublin qualifying for an Allianz Hurling League quarter-final with a game to spare. Dublin bringing Waterford's epic unbeaten league run - dating back almost 24 months - to a clinical end.

Dublin, in short, looking like a team that means business.

They came to Walsh Park yesterday with the naysayers still muttering their scepticism about the extent of this latest Dublin hurling revolution.

Before throw-in, Ger Cunningham's revamped crew in Sky Blue had won seven of their eight matches in 2016 - but five of those had come in the shadow-boxing world of the Walsh Cup. Moreover, their solitary setback, back on February 13, had been a 14-point collapse to a rampant Tipperary as the St Valentine's Day Massacre came 24 hours early to Thurles.

Dublin, so the premature consensus went, were shoo-ins for a relegation play-off. "I don't know where that performance came from," said Cunningham yesterday, harking back to that Tipp defeat.

Luxury

Now, three emphatic victories later, his team has the luxury of a dead-rubber fixture away to Kilkenny next Sunday as the prequel to a guaranteed spot in the league quarter-finals.

The feeling beforehand was that playing on the boggy enemy terrain of the Division One holders would test Dublin's mettle, their tactical acuity and sharpness far more than either Galway or Cork.

In which case, the visitors passed this putative litmus test with flying colours. The last time Waterford had suffered defeat in the league, it came in a relegation play-off at the same venue, against the same opposition, on March 30, 2014. Dublin won by 4-13 to 1-17.

This was a different type of contest, with goal chances at a premium, but the victory by a mirror-image five points - 0-19 to 0-14 - was no less emphatic.

Cunningham greeted full-time with a little fist-pump on the line. "Yeah, very happy to come to Walsh Park and get a victory," he later remarked, his deadpan delivery surely masking his inner delight.

"Someone said before the match, it's 23 months since Dublin were beaten down here and it was Dublin that did it two years ago as well. So, that was a nice challenge for us to come down here ... the lads showed great composure and good intelligence on the ball. Not an easy place to come so we're absolutely delighted to put another game back to back, which was the challenge."

Surprised

The one caveat is that Waterford, seeking their 11th consecutive NHL victory, were so acquiescent. "I was just surprised by how flat we were were during the game," admitted their manager, Derek McGrath, while going out of his way not to downplay just how impressive the visitors had been.

Rumour has it that Waterford put in a savage training session on Tuesday night, but that certainly wasn't being offered as an excuse.

Rather, this Division 1A clash was all about the Dubs. They had stars in every line, none more luminous than Eamon Dillon who continued his hot early-season streak with four sumptuous points from play.

Cian O'Callaghan was consistency personified at full-back, although you've got to question Waterford's tactical straitjacket approach of persisting with one inside forward - the lonely and isolated Tom Devine - against three Dublin backs for 51 minutes.

Maurice Shanahan then entered the fray and Waterford went more orthodox; but by then the wind-backed visitors were soaring in confidence as Liam Rushe stormed into the contest at centre-back and John McCaffrey grew in midfield influence.

David Treacy was also busy nailing almost every free (he finished with nine, including two monsters from the wing), while even Chris Crummey and Darragh O'Connell got in on the scoring act with points from their own '65'.

You'd never have guessed where the contest was heading after Waterford opened with a misleading three-point shell-burst inside two-and-a-half minutes. Yet Dublin had already drawn level before Dillon, on the quarter-hour mark, hit two inspirational points from opposite touchlines within 60 seconds of each other.

Even though Waterford gathered themselves to lead by 0-8 to 0-7 at the break, courtesy of two massive scores from Patrick Curan and an Austin Gleeson free, Dublin still looked poised. So it transpired.

"All over the field I thought Dublin were full value for it," McGrath admitted. "I thought they just outplayed us, out-thought us and outfought us. I'd have no argument with it - I think they're a very good team.

"We were extremely flat but any analysis of us would be counter-balanced by how good Dublin were."

allianz hurling league div 1a: Dublin 0-19 Waterford 0-14