With the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals taking place this weekend, we take a look at the Dublin hurlers ahead of their crucial clash with Tipperary.
All games are big games at this stage of the season but this is a particularly big one for Dublin. They failed in the Leinster final and that is the simple reality. They completely underperformed and fell a long way short of retaining their Leinster crown. They have a final opportunity against Tipperary to salvage their season and a lot will be learned about Dublin as a hurling force in the quarter-final.
Rewind to 2011. Dublin won the National Hurling League emphatically. They were head and shoulders above Kilkenny in the final and showed the rest of the country that they were ready to mix it with the big boys. They had a respectable championship season that year reaching a Leinster final, where they lost heavily to Kilkenny but they ran Tipperary close in the All-Ireland semi-final. It was progress and Dublin hurlers looked to be in a good place.
Expectations were high ahead of 2012 as the hurling public saw Dublin as potential Liam McCarthy conquerors. Dublin had a very poor championship campaign. They beat Laois to set up an encounter with Kilkenny that everybody eagerly anticipated. It was thought that Dublin could be the side to end or put doubt to Kilkenny’s legacy under Brian Cody. By all accounts a long time was spent in the gym to go and compete physically with Kilkenny but that game ended in absolute disaster.
Dublin fell flat and were comfortably disposed of by Kilkenny. They completely failed to show up and looked totally fixated on matching Kilkenny in the physicality stakes. As a result their skill levels were very poor and they faced a run through the back-door. They were unlucky to draw an improving Clare side in the qualifiers and the narrowly lost out, finding their season finished in early July with one win in their three games. It was a case of back to the drawing board.
As we all know Dublin had a very good season in 2013. They lifted the Bob O’Keefe Cup when they defeated Galway in the Leinster final. They had previously beaten Kilkenny after a replay in the semi-final, opening up the whole championship and giving people belief that Brian Cody’s men were no longer invincible. They then won some silverware and were very unlucky against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Many say that Dublin would have qualified for the All-Ireland final had Ryan O’Dwyer remained on the field. Overall people looked back on 2013 with Dublin being a team that was very close to winning the All-Ireland title. They were seen as real contenders for this year’s title and in many ways they still are.
But a look back at history and the most recent result against Dublin will make a lot of people have their doubts. When expectations were high against Kilkenny in a Leinster final, they failed. It was a big opportunity to strike a blow to the Cats and boost their own confidence and belief. Similar to 2012, they looked to go overboard on tactics and lose focus on skills. The result has raised more questions about Dublin, and these questions will be answered against Tipperary.
The reason why the comparison with Galway is being mentioned is due to their lack of consistency. A good season followed by a poor season, then another good season to be followed by another poor season. Look at Dublin, 2011- good, 2012 – poor, 2013 good, 2014 – ?
That is what makes this game with Tipperary so important for Dublin. If they are to lose to they could easily be classified as ‘just another Galway’. They will be looked at as a team that is very unpredictable and inconsistent with an inability to perform well in consecutive seasons.
If they beat Tipperary, this comparison gets thrown out the window and totally dismissed. There is a wide gap between those two views but the stakes in this game are very high.
Wexford’s run in the championship does make Dublin’s Leinster semi-final victory look far more credible than people thought it was at the time but the Kilkenny result will put huge doubts in people’s minds. It was another occasion when expectations were high on Dublin to make a statement of intent and they not only failed; they failed miserably. A total of 1-09 at this level of hurling is a complete disaster.
Dublin definitely have the capacity to beat Tipperary but it will be a tough game. At this moment in time Tipperary probably have the more momentum on their side. They are coming into the game on the back of two victories and with less weight on their shoulders having answered some of their critics with their win over Galway. It is difficult to know whether it is better to come into a game like this on the back of a victory or a loss.
Dublin will be down after the Leinster final and we will find out soon how well they have recovered. There is a lot of ability in their side. Peter Kelly will need to get back up to his all-star form of last season and deal with the threat of the in-form Seamus Callanan. Liam Rushe is probably the best centre-back in the game and will need to dominate. The rest of their defence will need to tighten up.
Dublin will also be hoping that Danny Sutcliffe will be fitter and sharper following his Leinster final game. He is their best player and can win games from half-forward. Conal Keaney and David O’Callaghan need to be more direct up front. For some reason Dublin continuously carried the ball into contact against Kilkenny. They have shown that they can score from all angles and they will need to take more chances against Tipperary.
A big hindrance for Dublin may prove to be the whole idea of hurling tradition. This may seem outrageous but there is no doubt that Tipperary will simply expect to beat Dublin. They will not fear them in any way and they will simply believe that they will win the game. Undoubtedly, they will respect Dublin, but records and mind-set will lead to Tipperary feeling that a win will be a hard-fought formality.
None of the above states that Dublin cannot win, but it does make their task more difficult. Overall it will be a massive test anyway and the answer that Dublin will provide will grip the hurling public. They definitely have the players to win the game, and probably are a better hurling team than Tipperary but as everybody knows that counts for very little if they come out on the wrong side of the result.
It really is a big game for the Boys in Blue. A win puts them into a semi-final with a shot at revenge against Cork. A loss will lead to more doubts and people thinking that Dublin maybe are not the real deal after all. They may just be ‘the next Galway’.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena
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