That’s right, Nowlan Park in Kilkenny, lair of the All-Ireland champions who are already in pole position with two convincing wins from two. That’s the fate that awaits Anthony Daly’s Dublin tomorrow, however, the reigning league champions having already lost a close game to Cork last week and to Galway two weeks earlier in a bit of a blowout.
Daly reasoned: “Everyone has to play them [Kilkenny] at some stage and that’s the way it has panned out for us. We always knew we were going to meet them in the third round and there’s no point in whingeing about it now, saying ‘of all the places we have to go to try and get a win’ — that’s only codswallop. We could have picked up two points against Cork, definitely we could have had one, but that’s history now. We must look forward and hopefully pick up a few points this weekend. Maybe they’ll relax a bit with their two wins from two!”
The chances of a Brian Cody-trained Kilkenny side relaxing brings a laugh from Daly. “They don’t, do they? They’re ruthless at all times and when they have you on the run they’ll drive it home. But all we can do is worry about ourselves. If we put up a similar performance as we did against Cork and this time take the goal opportunities we create then we have a chance. But if we play like we did against Galway we have no chance.
“Everyone will be making Kilkenny hot favourites, which is what you’d expect after the way they’re playing, but I was delighted with our own performance last week, the second half particularly. It was better than what we did against Galway and hopefully the players realise now that that’s the level of performance we need. If we don’t get that we have no business even going near Nowlan Park.”
And if Dublin manage to pull off a win? “You never know what might happen, and after Sunday we have two more games. You hope for the best and if we win all three we could even make the semi-final — it could even come down to the last game. Even if the worst came to worst in the league and we were relegated, we’d deal with that too.
“It was a huge advantage to be in Division 1 for the last few years but those are good games now in the lower division, it’s not the same anymore.”
That’s realism from Daly, not pessimism. Dublin’s league campaign has been completely disrupted by injuries, the three long-term cruciate victims — Stephen Hiney, Conal Keaney and Tomás Brady — all joined at various times by a host of others.
Dotsie O’Callaghan, Alan McCrabbe and Liam Rushe have more hurling under their belts now, as has returning footballer Ross O’Carroll which means that Dublin should be getting stronger as the league progresses.
The real target, however, is the Leinster championship opener against the Laois/Carlow winners, on June 2.
Daly agreed: “Conal, Stephen and Tomás won’t be back for the league but if they can be ready for the championship, that’s the aim. They’re working desperately hard and on target. Conal Keaney had the worst injury but he has made up savage ground on the others.
“They’re not involved in any contact drills or anything like that but are just pucking the ball to each other, catching and landing on one leg, it is a slow build-up.
“That’s what you have to do with a cruciate injury, slow and methodical.
“I’m hopeful that by championship time, when we meet the winners of Laois/Carlow, we’ll have everyone back. And then we’ll have some job on our hands to pick a team!”