FOR the Dublin hurlers, the challenges never end. They change.
Earlier this month they quietened doubts about their abilities, their mental strength and their big-game temperament by scalping Kilkenny in a league final which saw them take the tape with a dozen points to spare.
They now find themselves facing a new set of challenges as they turn into the summer bearing an unfamiliar weight of expectation and they do so with a handful of worrying injuries clouding their otherwise blue skies.
Tomas Brady and Joey Boland are both destined to miss the championship opener against Offaly on May 29, while captain Stephen Hiney is unlikely to see any action at all this summer.
All three are defenders and key figures in Anthony Daly’s plans and Brady admits that their unavailability will ask some searching questions as to how deep the well of talent actually stretches in the capital.
“Yeah, the strength of the panel will be tested,” he said. “It’s been one of the big things this year. We have had a number of additions and they have really helped. They have made our panel a lot stronger. Especially up front, we felt we were a bit light up there in years gone by and the additions we have had have been tremendous for us and they have performed brilliantly for Dublin.”
So too, has Brady who has been ruled out for six weeks after a scan revealed medial ligament damage in his right knee as a result of an unfortunate accident last weekend when a teammate fell on him during club training. The effects were clear to see in the Dunloy Cuchullains club in Antrim yesterday where the hobbling Dubliner was one of four players on hand to assist the GAA in officially launching the 2011 Hurling Championship.
The mere sight of a Dublin player at such an event is in itself a mark of just how far the side has come in recent years but Anthony Daly is sure to stress that they have yet to hit any great heights in the championship when the panel regroups tonight.
Wins over Wexford and Clare, both of which are counties struggling to match past glories — have been the sum of their rewards in recent summers while unforeseen losses to Limerick and Antrim have slowed their rate of advancement.
Brady accepts that their championship report card could be summed up as ‘must do better’ but he has every confidence in his colleagues’ ability to park their league celebrations and focus on the task in hand.
“I’m sure the management will have a word when we meet again. We know it was an historic victory but we have to understand it was the league and hurling is all about championship and about the summer. We are old enough not to get carried away.
“We have yet to make a mark as a team on the championship, bar 2009. Realistically we have only had one victory of significance. We really want to make our mark on the championship this year and hopefully the league is just a springboard.”
Sitting next to Brady at the launch yesterday was Tipperary’s Páraic Maher who served as a handy reminder as to what it will take to claim the ultimate honour, as well as Galway’s Cyril Donnellan who was representative of more immediate concerns. With the draw as it is, Kilkenny are certainties to reach the Leinster final yet again this year but, if Dublin are to renew battle with them in that arena, they will most likely have to overcome Offaly and Galway first. John McIntyre’s sidebegin their campaign with a meeting against the winner of the Carlow-Westmeath clash at the start of June and there was mixed news for the Connacht side yesterday on the injury front.
Forward Iarla Tannian reportedly broke a thumb playing for his club Ardrahan on Sunday evening and missed training the following day although both Damien Hayes and Joe Canning featured for Portumna and are returning to full fitness.
“We were a bit hampered in the league but we’re gathering at the right time now and we have a very important four weeks ahead of us to get things right,” said Donellan. “We have a big four-week block of training ahead of us and that is important.
“You’ll be confident then that you have the work done. We’d be looking towards settling into a pattern.”
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