One of the dominant themes was Dublin finally cracking their Croke Park ‘hoodoo’, as if the hurlers hadn’t won a game there since the GAA purchased the land back in 1913.
It’s only two years since Dublin won their first Leinster title since 1961. In 2011, Dublin won their first league title since 1939. Then, after losing an All-Ireland semi-final, a Leinster final and a league game in 18 months, suddenly it’s a hoodoo. That kind of stuff drives me crazy.
You consistently hear this rubbish that the tight confines of Parnell Park suits the Dubs more, that it’s like a fortress behind an iron curtain. If anything, this Dublin team are far more suited to Croke Park than anywhere else. Fellas like Danny Sutcliffe, Mark Schutte, Eamonn Dillon and Dotsy O’Callaghan are made for Croke Park. They love the place.
A lot of opinion around Dublin though, takes its reference points from big defeats and the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final defeat is a standout case-study. We really felt confident going into the match. The spirit was huge.
We had a couple of plans laid out. We decided to go toe-to-toe with Cork for the first half. We knew they would have no issue with that tactic and we felt that we had enough firepower and confidence to be with them at half-time. We were only one point down and when we reverted to Plan B, our usual system, we had control of the match.
Danny Sutcliffe came to midfield with the same licence to get forward. Johnny McCaffrey was to sit beside Liam Rushe to allow him to surge forward on occasion but most of all shore up the middle third. The lazy pundits called him ‘a sweeper’.
No balls were to be hit to the corner-flag to suit our two-man full-forward line of Dotsy O’Callaghan and Paul Ryan. We knew David Treacy wouldn’t last the 70 minutes so we had Mark Schutte, who was on fire, primed to come in late on and close the game out for us.
We had control in the middle third. We were dictating the tempo. Ten minutes into the second half, I turned around to the backroom team and said, ‘We have them’. Then Ryan O’Dwyer was sent off for a second yellow card in the 50th minute. Anthony Nash levelled the match from the resultant free and the momentum switched.
People have said to me 20,000 times since that we should have taken Ryan off after the first yellow card. To be honest, our first reaction was: ‘Yeah, let’s get him off, we have to be ruthless’. But he was having such a good game on Christopher Joyce, who we had targeted for puckouts, that Richie Stakelum said: ‘Leave it for a ball or two, Dwyer’s in a good place’.
He was. Ryan was really disciplined all year, until that second yellow. It was a card but the first yellow was definitely not a bookable offence. If it was any other player, would James Owens have pulled out a yellow card? I’m not so sure. It’s not sour grapes because there was no animosity or bitterness in that game or ever was between the Rebels and myself or the Dubs but I never felt it merited a sending off.
In lots of ways, that lack of edge and history between the sides suits Cork. They feel they can express themselves more. Then, when they beat you, they come along clap you on the back and say, ‘Ye nearly bate us boy, fair play to ye, ye’ve really improved. Next year could be yere year, boy’.
Dublin always had great games against Cork in my time. Beating them in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2011, which qualified us for the league final, was one of Dublin’s greatest days. They beat us another night under lights in Croke Park by one point in a highly competitive game. When we played them in a challenge game in Cashel last year, the scoreline was like something you’d see in a slot machine.
That lack of edge, and lack of rivalry, is the reason there are so many shootouts when the teams play. It was part of the reason Cork scored 0-34 when the sides met last month but Dublin stood five yards off their men. You might as well just go in and wave the flag for the umpire when you do that against Cork.
The match was flat but Dublin should be far more aggressive tomorrow. Dublin’s defence looked really solid against Limerick. Chris Crummy has really grown into the number six jersey. Conal Keaney is a huge presence beside him. Cian O’Callaghan has had a great league. I expect Dublin to be much more tigerish and it to be a far tighter game now and not the shootout of old. I fancy Dublin to win.
We’re all hurling fanatics but Noel McGrath’s plight during the week puts it all into perspective. When one of the best players in the game is struck down with testicular cancer at 24, it makes you appreciate what you have all the more. His health is priority above any result tomorrow.
You’d wonder where Tipp’s heads are at now but getting Seamus Callinan’s red card rescinded is a big plus in the context of such a tough week. Tipp are the best team in the country at the moment but the tighter confines of Nowlan Park will also suit Waterford’s style. The balance is tilted more in Waterford’s favour than initially expected but Tipp should still have enough long-range shooters to win.
On another sad note, I’m sure the passing of Dave Billings this week will be in the minds of many of the Dublin players tomorrow. I can still see him cycling across St Anne’s Park so often after training, offering me tidbits of information on whatever team we might be playing that Sunday. He would always delay the journey home to Clare by half an hour but it was always time enjoyably spent because he was great company.
If you were low after a defeat, you’d always get the text from Dave. ‘Keep the head up’. He was a great and genuine friend to so many people. Dave’s passing is a terrible loss, to his family, friends, and the GAA itself.