Dubs in a deep hole but Galway look made for HQ

When I was coming out of Tullamore yesterday, I ran into a few Dublin supporters. The disappointment and frustration was visible on their faces.

Dubs in a deep hole but Galway look made for HQ

“Bad day, Dalo.” “Ah sure, lookit lads, we’ve had bad days before,” I replied, mindful of those painful memories, and trying to stay some way positive with my Dublin hat on.

“We need to avoid Tipperary now anyway,” one of the Dublin lads said to me.

Jeez, I wasn’t even thinking about Tipp. My big fear for Dublin now is that they could get caught by one of the teams coming out of the Leinster Round Robin group, Laois or Westmeath. Dublin should be able to beat one of those teams, if they met them, but confidence must be extremely low after yesterday and it’s no guarantee.

After all the strides made by Dublin in recent years, especially at underage with them being Leinster minor and U-21 champions last year, that scenario would be disastrous for Dublin hurling.

Yesterday’s performance magnifies the U-21 match against Kilkenny even more now on Wednesday night. I remember being in that position in 2010 when we took a right hiding from Kilkenny in Croke Park and we had to go to Nowlan Park to take on the Kilkenny U-21s three days later. The senior management doubled up as the U-21 management that year and that U-21 win gave us a huge boost. We ended up getting knocked out of the senior championship that year by Antrim but that U-21 win – we went on to win Leinster afterwards – was important for the future of the senior team. It’s the same again now, especially with so many young players in the squad.

It won’t be easy this time around. I know from talking to Eddie Brennan, the Kilkenny U-21 manager, that they are wired, especially after last year’s defeat to Westmeath, and particularly with the expectation surrounding this Kilkenny team, having been All-Ireland minor champions three years ago.

That is the future but yesterday was a sad day for Dublin hurling. Galway brought a huge crowd but there were only specks of blue amongst the sea of maroon and white. I don’t want to be talking about my time in Dublin but our win against Galway in Tullamore in 2011 is one of my most cherished memories from my six years with Dublin. We brought an army of support that evening. We had won the league but every genuine Dublin supporter seemed to travel that night. The team bus was stopped in traffic afterwards and I remember looking out the window and seeing Dublin kids pucking around on the side of the road, having left their cars because they were going nowhere in the gridlock. This is a different time now but it is sad that that momentum and optimism has been lost.

In a way, it’s unfair to compare that time with now because we had built up a real head of steam and everyone was rowing in behind us. Galway are one of the favourites for this year’s All-Ireland but we had hope that time and you need hope to go anywhere. And this Dublin team really needs to generate that hope and belief if they are to propel themselves out of this hole they’re now in.

The match itself was a dead duck. Even trying to generate any decent talking points on my Radio One co-commentary was a challenge because Galway just did as they wanted, especially after the sending off of Cian O’Callaghan. The second yellow card looked harsh but I was talking to a fella afterwards who was right behind it and he said it was a cynical foul.

Galway did as they pleased afterwards. We didn’t find out too much about them. We probably won’t find out too much about them either the next day against Offaly. We will have to wait until they hit Croke Park on Leinster final day but they have a team now that looks built for Headquarters.

They had the luxury of taking off Conor Cooney, who was excellent, with 15 minutes remaining, replacing him with Niall Burke, who was also very impressive. That shows you the depth they have but that is what you want. I’m still not fully convinced about their defence because Dublin had a couple of goal chances but that will give management something to work on for the next day.

Dublin looked like a team carrying injuries. Ryan O’Dwyer and David Treacy didn’t look fit. That’s not waistline fitness, they just looked flat and tired, almost stuck to the ground. Liam Rushe was never in the game either because Galway kept the ball away from him. You have to credit Galway with that but Liam has to take responsibility for some of it too.

When Dublin had their purple patch and went ahead midway through the first half, the move of Joe Canning onto Shane Barrett was crucial. Three scores came off that move in about four minutes. That is good sideline sharpness from Galway but Dublin’s management needs to be more reactive to those kinds of moves. I know they are slow to take Rushey out of centre-back but Chris Crummey should have picked up Joe if he went to either wing. Shane Barrett left Canning loose and you can’t do that against a player with the ability to pull the strings and pull you apart.

Dublin’s idea to put O’Dwyer in corner-forward and pull him out alongside Ben Quinn as another centre-forward backfired too. It crowded the middle but Dublin need space there for the type of fast forwards they have. Donal Burke got one great point but I couldn’t understand putting him in on top of Daithi Burke. That’s just naiveté.

It was great to see Dotsy O’Callaghan coming on but I would have held him off, especially coming off a hamstring injury, in order to get him right for the qualifiers. Dublin did bring on a raft of young lads but it’s not always ideal throwing in young fellas when the team is getting a hiding. John Heatherton made a great impression when he came on but he was only called into the panel three weeks ago, which can’t be ideal at this level either. I’m not completely blaming Ger Cunningham. Some players have to look at themselves too but there are clearly fundamental issues to be sorted amongst this group.

It’s natural to focus on Dublin after a defeat like this but Galway deserve huge credit for the clinical way they killed the game. They look very strong. They look really committed. When you saw Canning chasing down Ben Quinn and hooking him on his own 13-metre line in injury-time, that’s a sign of a team really buying into their management. That kind of desire and effort late on when the game is already long wrapped up is an endorsement of the trust the players and management have in each other.

I met a fella in Tullamore who said he had a good bet on Galway at 10-1 since last February to win the All-Ireland. Galway have to face a real test yet but that bet looks good now.

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