Dublin still have lots more in the tank, insists Johnny McCaffrey

Waterford, as Johnny McCaffrey said yesterday, have been a breath of fresh air this year.

Dublin still have lots more in the tank, insists Johnny McCaffrey

Dublin? You couldn’t say as much. Not yet. Ask McCaffrey how he feels they have played this season and he will say he is happy enough with their performances through league and championship: that second outing against Galway aside, of course.

Yet Ger Cunningham’s charges go into Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Waterford at Semple Stadium still seeking the kind of display that gets the heart racing.

The sense is that this is a team still seeking to rediscover its groove.

“Absolutely,” he said at the AIG Insurance Summer Splash event in Dublin. “At the end of the day people remember your championship performances and so far we haven’t had anything really for people to remember us by.

“There’s still a lot more in the tank. As I said from the last day (against Limerick), there’s a lot to improve on and we feel we haven’t reached anywhere where we need to get to yet. Hopefully that will start coming on Sunday.”

That Dublin are still here at all is something of a blessing given Limerick outplayed them for long periods in their qualifier meeting. And yet the Dubs showed undoubted character in reeling in an eight-point deficit and grinding out a result when far from their best.

That was a day when performance ranked a distant second in terms of priorities to the end result, but with Liam Rushe returned to defence and Conal Keaney re-positioned to the attack there were signs that the team was that bit more comfortable in its own skin.

Waterford, for their part, have looked far more at ease with what they have been trying to do this season, even if their unbeaten track record in 2015 went up in smoke when they fell five points short to Tipperary in the Munster final.

“We have looked at them, I’ve seen a few of their games this year,” said McCaffrey. “The main thing that stands out about them is that they work very hard for each other.

“They are a very good hurling side, but they work extremely hard and try get as many men on the ball.

“Not just behind the ball, but on the ball, and the right men on the ball as well. So far they have been a breath of fresh air and they have added massively to the championship. It’s a big challenge for us to go into Thurles and take them on.”

Talk naturally turned to the ‘system’ deployed by Waterford under Derek McGrath where Tahdg de Burca acts as the defensive fulcrum to a deep-lying side and McCaffrey believes patience will be the key for Dublin when they face it at the weekend.

Waterford may be the latest poster boys for that tactical approach, but McCaffrey is of the belief that most of the teams chasing September glory are now in the business of drafting extra men back anyway.

In that regard, Sunday won’t be a culture shock.

He himself has plenty of experience of what it is to play as a sweeper, which he did when Anthony Daly first took over Dublin.

The key, he found, was that the presence of the extra man should not lull others into a false sense of security.

“Our forward unit are getting used to how to counteract it and us out the field are trying to work out how we try get the best ball in to get our forwards on the ball,” he added. “It’s a bit of cat and mouse and trying to get as much ball as possible in early as best you can.” It’s a significant game for both camps.

Defeat for Waterford would mean a miserable end to a summer that promised so much when they won the league. A loss for Dublin would represent another year of, at best, stagnation, after their limp exit to Tipperary at this stage in 2014.

The good news is that Peter Kelly is back fit and available to underpin the defence while Niall McMorrow and Cian O’Callaghan should also be available to Cunningham. All of which will add to the expectation that Dublin can and must do better.

“We’ve been to two All-Ireland semi-finals in the last couple of years: we’re hoping to get to another one again,” said McCaffrey.

“So that’s the expectations that we have on ourselves, never mind what the outside think.

“That’s where we want to try and get to.”

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