There’s been an understated, shy, unspoken confidence about Dublin hurling since last year, even though they failed to win any games of note in the Leinster championship. Bizarre, but their performances were extremely solid, and indeed they really should have been able to take something away from their games against Kilkenny, Wexford and Galway.
That’s last season. This time, they’re back – and determined to claw with their fingernails to make up those last few inches to get them over the line in tight games. They’re rocking an intimidating black strip, have solidified their spine impressively and are not afraid to stand up to anyone. After all, if Limerick can win the All-Ireland after a 45-year gap, why the hell can’t the capital win it after 81?
The murmurings around punters are familiar – they’re not bad, they’ll rattle a few cages, but ultimately will come up short. But we’re not so sure. This is a team trained by arguably the best coach in the land, second only to Paul Kinnerk currently, one could argue. They’re league campaign was impressive, without being remarkable, the victory over Tipperary in Thurles in the quarter-final being of particular note. They’ve found a meanness to their play, and they’ve grasped it firmly, a slickness to their delivery, and a tactical awareness to upset those teams that may nudge it on ability alone.
Make no mistake, making amends in the Leinster championship was and is their only goal for 2019. Kilkenny away, Wexford at home, Carlow away and Galway at home is their line up, and as they go, it’s favourable. For sure, getting a win the first day in Nowlan Park is a massive ask, but if they manage to muscle their way over the line, it will set a precedent that hasn’t been seen in the county since 2013.
From Eoghan O’Donnell at full-back, through Chris Crummey and Seán Moran at half, Seán Treacy, Danny Sutcliffe and Éamonn Dillon, the side is being moulded into a team that can smell blood in the closing stages and twist the knife, as it were. The focal point John Hetherton has real presence at centre-forward, and if he wins clean ball, his size can craft opportunities for the lively forwards around him, like Oisín O’Rorke and young Jake Malone. Not forgetting Liam Rushe, their go-to player for so long and one that is up there with the best hurlers on his day. With Kilkenny far from their prime and Galway minus their stalwart, this would appear to be a fantastic opportunity for Dublin to make real, meaningful strides.
They will be bitterly disappointed to fail to make it out of Leinster, and a semi-final is not beyond them if they avoid an influx of injuries, as their depth is undeniably weaker when compared to some of their competitors.
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