Well, Tomás is also a dual player, from a dual club; though chosen a few years ago on a development divisional team for the senior footballers, however, he decided to throw in his lot with the hurlers, and this Sunday will line out at full-back against Kilkenny in the Leinster final in Croke Park. With guys like David O’Callaghan and John McCaffrey now also opting for hurling, is this a sign of things to come?
It was a Damascene-type decision, transformation rather than gradual conversion. In 1999 his club, Na Fianna, reached the All-Ireland football final, and the then 12-year-old Tomás was mightily impressed, himself hell-bent on following in the footsteps of guys like Dessie Farrell and Jason Sherlock, and becoming a Dublin footballer. “Definitely I would have seen myself playing in a football jersey rather than a hurling one. At the time I wouldn’t have known any of the hurlers, whereas I’d have known the names of every one of footballers. I started playing football first and I would have preferred it up to minor. Then in 2005 the minor hurlers did well and the footballers were not doing well at the time, so suddenly hurling was the sport.”
2005; the year the tide began to turn. Dublin’s senior footballers were still the dominant force in the county, packing Croke Park every time they featured, and given that they have practically owned the Leinster championship for the past several years, that meant a lot of big days in GAA headquarters. But that year also, 2005, the Dublin minor hurlers began to make a waves at national level. They went toe to toe with Kilkenny in Leinster and came out on top, and suddenly a new realisation dawned among the boys in blue. If they could beat Kilkenny, couldn’t they beat anyone? And if they did find themselves among the elite, isn’t that a more select group in hurling than in football, thus increasing the chances of winning an All-Ireland? “You could list four or five teams at the start of the year who could win the hurling All-Ireland,” says Tomás, “Whereas in football there would be seven or eight that would fancy their chances of winning. In that respect, there is a better chance for Dublin to win an All-Ireland.”
Oh he was tempted when Pillar Caffrey came calling, tempted to go down the route of Shane and Conal, the route even of Dessie and Jason, both of whom were also skilled in the small-ball game. “At that stage there was no senior hurling management team in place, and I love the football as much as I love the hurling. Then Tommy Naughton (previous Dublin hurling manager) gave me a ring so I decided to give the hurling a shot, and now Anthony is on board.”
Anthony is Anthony Daly, former manager of Clare and captain when the Banner won the All-Irelands of 1995 and 1997. Now the Dublin manager, Daly is charged with taking the hurling Dubs to the next level. Already this year there’s been progress: Division 1 status comfortably maintained, and now this, the county’s first Leinster senior hurling final since 1991. Ironically, even as Dublin try to deny Kilkenny their fifth provincial title in succession, just a week later the footballing Dubs will also be in Croke Park in another Leinster final, but on this occasion Dublin will be the big boys, Kildare trying to deny them their own five-in-a-row. For that game Croker will be packed to the rafters, Hill 16 a sea of blue. What Tomás and his team-mates would give to have that same following there against Kilkenny, lifting them in their time of need. ! “We’re not going to get the full support overnight but it is changing,” says Brady. Within a few years, hopefully, there will be the same support there but it will take time and we are going to have to have success before that happens.” A win this Sunday would be some kick-start for that kind of support? “No doubt about it.”
Does Tomás believe they can win? “There is no point going out if you don’t believe you can. The most important thing we are looking for is a performance. If we can perform to our level best, individually and collectively, I think we will put it up to them.”
Dublin are up against probably the greatest team hurling has ever seen. Kilkenny know this is a Dublin team, peppered with top-quality players.
But even among those who can’t see a Dublin win, there is hope that this will at least be a competitive Leinster final. “Hopefully we can provide that,” says Tomás; “We will be up against it, but we believe if things go well on the day we can be competitive anyway.”