Saturday 16 December 2017

Tribe too good for Dub team in a state of flux

Leinster SHC Dublin v Galway (Tullamore, Tomorrow 4.0, Live RTÉ 2)

Dublin manager Ger Cunningham is investing his faith in the county’s young hurlers. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin manager Ger Cunningham is investing his faith in the county’s young hurlers. Pic: Sportsfile

So then, back to O'Connor Park ... back to where Ger Cunningham's best-laid plans unravelled in early June, 2015.

That was the last SHC collision between our stickmen in sky blue and maroon. And before that Leinster quarter-final replay, the cards appeared stacked in Dublin's favour.

They had history, ancient and recent, on their side. All five SHC encounters prior to that year had been won by Dublin. And they had form: a better league campaign, even a more convincing display in their stalemate of six days earlier.

But inside 11 minutes, it was game over. Cathal Mannion had posted his application for fastest hat-trick in modern hurling history. Dublin's defence was all over the retail establishment. They trailed by 3-5 to 0-1; Galway eventually eased over the horizon to win by 5-19 to 1-18.

Why the potted history lesson now, given all the personnel changes that have transformed the make-up of Cunningham's squad over the past 24 months?

Well, here's why: because Dublin have been in a state of near-perpetual flux in that period whereas Galway - for so long the great enigmas of hurling - have stuck with most of their group.

The Tribesmen have grown into physical giants of men; just as pertinently, they seem more solid, reliable, far less flaky than the stereotype of old.

All this, curiously, while negotiating a different type of flux: a player coup against Anthony Cunningham that turned a forensic spotlight on themselves.

To date, at least, they have handled that pressure very well. The big question about Galway - their mindset to go the All-Ireland distance - remains unanswered. The flip side is that Micheál Donoghue's crew can't be held accountable for the 29-year-old sins of others.

Signs are they are edging ever closer. Back in 2015, under Cunningham, they looked champions-elect at half-time against Kilkenny. Last summer, they were the only team to seriously get under Tipp's skin.

And this spring, after an unconvincing start, they franked their status as heavyweight summer contenders with that show-stopping demolition of Tipp in the Allianz league final.

They are bigger and stronger than most. They have pace to burn in attack. That forward line no longer answers to the description, "Joe Canning plus five AN Others".

The bookies have made them favourites. If you're not careful you might even start to trust them ...

Too early to order the maroon ribbons? Far too early ... unless chastening Galway history has taught us nothing.

For all that, it's almost impossible to make a case for the underdog tomorrow. Since Galway blew them away by 13 points in 2015, Dublin have taken just one SHC scalp of any significance, beating Limerick in the qualifiers that summer. Wexford, 12 months ago, were not at the races and don't count.


Eight of the team that started in Tullamore two years ago (Alan Nolan, Michael Carton, Paul and Mark Schutte, Simon Lambert, Conal Keaney, Shane Durkin and Danny Sutcliffe) have either retired, walked or were pushed. Likewise two of their subs that day (Paul Ryan and Johnny McCaffrey).

You could certainly argue that the break-up of Anthony Daly's team was inevitable, but the rate of attrition has been rapid and it places a huge burden on rookie shoulders.

Some of the defensive young guns have excelled over the past 18 months, no one more than Eoghan O'Donnell. At the other end, Donal Burke has made a pretty seamless transition from 2016 minor to 2017 senior marksman.

But, if you take out Liam Rushe, Ryan O'Dwyer and (to a lesser extent) Niall McMorrow, Eamonn Dillon and Chris Crummey, they are a team lacking any depth of big-game experience.

Gary Maguire is suspended. The prodigal David O'Callaghan has been hamstrung by another injury. The jet-heeled Darragh O'Connell, struck by a similar ailment, appears set to miss out.

Against this backdrop, it's a leap of faith too far to see them halting Galway's gallop.

ODDS: Galway 1/5 Draw 14/1 Dublin 4/1


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