Sunday 21 January 2018

'You must keep faith'

Dublin football's great survivor primed if called upon next Sunday in All-Ireland final

Darren Daly’s focus is solely on Dublin’s team performance ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park and (opposite page) in action against Ryan McHugh of Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile
Darren Daly’s focus is solely on Dublin’s team performance ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park and (opposite page) in action against Ryan McHugh of Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile

"Listen," shrugs Darren Daly. "There's no point beating around the bush….it wasn't great."

The 'it' to which Daly refers is that mini ambush by Kerry just before half-time in their latest All-Ireland semi-final epic, the rehearsed press on Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs that appeared to infuse blind, if ultimately only temporary, panic in a team that had cruised with near total authority until then.

"They got a good purple patch," Daly reflects, "but deep down, I believed that if we re-grouped and got back out here, the quality in this team have full capability of coming back and winning this game, no doubt.

"After the game, speaking to all the lads, everyone thought that. Maybe in previous years, that mightn't have happened."

And Daly is fully licensed to appraise.

He is one of the great survivors of the Dublin senior football squad.


Famously plucked from an All-Ireland winning Junior team in 2008 along with Denis Bastick, Eoghan O'Gara, Mick Fitzsimons and Jonny Cooper, Daly was an unused substitute in 2009 when Dublin were destroyed by Kerry on a day that initiated seismic upheaval on the constitution of that squad.

He remained through the cull. He was there in 2011 too, though Daly didn't make his Dublin Championship debut until 2013.

Some, like John Small and Davey Byrne this year, have kept above the Fingal player in Gavin's defensive hierarchy but others, some heavily bejewelled with medals from their underage days, have failed to establish themselves as firmly in the Dublin management's faith.

Gavin's trust in Daly is self-evident.

Last year, he was the man deemed best qualified to grant relief to Cian O'Sullivan's aching hamstring in the All-Ireland final.

In the 2013 decider, he was chosen by Gavin as the man to replace a struggling Jack McCaffrey at half-time against Mayo.

Both key roles and both in the most pressurised environment.

"From my end, you have to believe all the time," he says of his current situation on this, the beginning of the week of his fourth All-Ireland final.

Daly played no part against Kerry last time out, but given how adaptable he is across the defensive positions and the level-headedness he applies to his roles, you wouldn't bet against him having some active part next Sunday.

"Everyone has their own individual goals, whether it is to start or whether it is a few minutes, you have to have some belief to drive you on, you know that kind of way.

"Whether there is starting positions up for grabs, I don't know and that is not for me to decide, I just need to focus on what I can do."

It's well-trodden ground.

"You definitely have to stay positive," he notes.

"I have been in the same sort of position for the last couple of finals, played the quarters, didn't play the semis, lucky enough to get on in the finals.

"I know by staying positive the chance can arise, and obviously being positive around the group, and everyone being positive, that is great.

"Everyone has their own goals, all looking towards the collective goal. But whether the goal is that you want a few minutes or you are starting, you know what you are chasing."


But back, for a second, to Dublin's untangling of the Kerry conundrum two Sundays back.

If the anarchic mood around Croke Park at half-time was reflected in the Dublin dressing-room at that moment, it must have resembled a scene from Mad Max?

"I have been asked this a few times," Daly admits.

"it was the same as any other time, whether we were five points up or five points down.

"Very calm, controlled, follow the same pattern at half-time no matter what position we are in.

"We didn't make a change, it was controlled, just chipped away and thank God, we came out the right end. This group is a special group," he states.

"We are knit, lads just generally work really hard and a few games that were in the melting pot, we gelled well and we dug them out."

"It just comes from experience.

"Sometimes, you are not always at your best, but you know the things to do to get that ultimate performance."

"I think I know the appetite is there," Daly goes on.

"There is huge hunger from all the lads. It is great to see when we came under a bit of pressure, that lads did respond, for lads going into the next game."

And his own expected experience of a day when he could join Dublin GAA's immortals and win a fourth medal, even if he doesn't play?

"Listen," Daly surmises, "the ultimate goal at the end of the day is for us to perform on the day and win an All-Ireland.

"After that, if I come on, great."

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