An intriguing battle of opposites

It’s three years last month that Greg Kennedy was convinced by Mattie Kenny to join him on his ticket with Cuala as coach and selector.

Leinster SHC quarter-final

GALWAY V DUBLIN

Today: O’Connor Park, Tullamore, 4pm

Referee: B Kelly, Westmeath

TV: RTE Two live

Eighteen months later and a first Dublin title in 21 years came the club’s way. A first Leinster title was delivered last November before they outclassed Ballyea to claim a famous All-Ireland crown three months ago.

The three years at the coalface of the club scene in the capital has given Kennedy an unique insight into what makes Dublin hurling tick. Years of coaching and observing in Galway also makes him well placed to compare and contrast the two counties as they clash today. Dublin club hurling mightn’t have the rabid tribalism that has long characterised the circuit in Galway but it has plenty of positives, he says.

“Cuala, Lucan, Boden, Judes, (Kilmacud) Crokes and all these guys, the players on these teams that you were told about all stand out. Top-class athletes, top-class hurlers. The really excellent hurlers always made their presence felt in matches. Comparing it to the standard of club hurling in Galway, these guys are just as good. If you were to go to club matches in Galway and asked to pick out a county player, sometimes you would struggle but that’s not the case in Dublin. They’re a cut above. Maybe the second tier hurlers in Dublin aren’t of the same quality as they would be in Galway but you do see the difference between a county and a club hurler much easier in Dublin.”

Factors such as distractions like football and the absence of a parish rule militate against Dublin possessing a deep-rooted club rivalry as that in Galway, according to the Loughrea man.

“The biggest difference between Galway and Dublin hurling is they take it seriously in Dublin but it’s not engrained as much as it is in Galway. The whole parish thing and rural Ireland aspect in Galway makes it much stronger than Dublin. It’s not do-or-die in Dublin, they’ll do their best but there’s not the same ferocity in club hurling.

“Having said that, the hurling is definitely there in Dublin, the skill element is definitely there. I really think the club players in Dublin have slightly superior fitness levels to the club players in Galway. Obviously, the facilities are better and the standard of living is higher than Dublin and those things all contribute towards making you a better hurler.

“The ferocity and rivalry of Galway hurling is well-known but the intensity is building in Dublin. In the three years I’ve been there, it has come on a hell of a lot.”

While there are no demarcation lines, it helps that Galway’s hurling and football strongholds are so well defined. In Dublin, they don’t exist. In Cuala, Kennedy now sees the situation of Mark Schutte being called into the Dublin senior panel alongside Con O’Callaghan, two men who formed a third of the club’s attack on St Patrick’s Day.

Kennedy knows the pressures they are under. Although they have the likes of Daithí Burke and Alan Kerins, Galway haven’t had as many dual dilemmas as Dublin in recent times. “Because of the geographic split, north and west for football and south and east for hurling, Galway has the healthier approach to dual player,” Kennedy believes.

“Dublin isn’t as clearly marked out as that. It’s a smaller county in size and there are so many dual players that the whole hurling v football thing does create a bigger divide even though it’s kept very quiet. Not much is said because the Dublin senior football team are so successful. The power of football overshadows the hurling and it’s not as popular a sport in Dublin but it could get there.

But Kennedy maintains Dublin’s dual issue is more acute. “In Galway, you would get away with playing both quicker than you would in Dublin because the Galway footballers haven’t got to the All-Ireland semi-finals in quite some time so it might be a shorter year.

“We’ve dual players in Cuala and we’ve a good understanding that they are dual players and we respect that. It’s difficult and you have to manage it but it’s tougher on the player. It’s not easy for them to mix and match because the level you have to reach to win two Dublin (hurling) titles and be an inter-county footballer at the same time is pretty demanding,” he says.

Kennedy could see Dublin challenging for ultimate honours if all that was available to them were part of the panel. “If they had the full complement of players available to them, they could do it. (Anthony) Daly got them to a very high standard as regards skill levels and losing the players that they have they have also lost ground to the rest of the counties. As a unit, Dublin are still lacking.”

As for Galway, he fancies them to win handsomely in Tullamore but knows their ambitions are far loftier. But in that there might be a problem. As he explains: “I think if they can spurn the hype then they have a great chance. If they keep the players in the bubble and don’t let the hype get into their circle and keep their heads down and work hard they will have a serious chance.

The players are good enough, everything is fine but the biggest thing is the hype.”


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