Anthony Daly took in the stony faces clutching microphones and, unlike most of his buddies in the bainisteoirs’ club who would have braced for combat, defused the tension as only he can.
“The nearest thing to what James Connolly must have faced, this craic,” said the Dublin manager by way of hello to the media scrum.
The gambit worked but, as the room relaxed, the wide smile on his face couldn’t mask the hurt of his side’s comprehensive beating at the hands of Kilkenny.
The nod to history was fitting on a day when it slipped through his team’s fingers.
Ireland was still in the grip of The Emergency the last time Dublin retained the Leinster senior hurling title and it was 17 years since anybody other than Kilkenny had managed to prolong their possession of the Bob O’Keeffe Cup by another 12 months.
A victory for Dublin here yesterday would have heightened the sense that hurling was indeed deep into another era to match its revolution years of the 1990s, when Kilkenny went four weird but wonderful years without a provincial title.
It never looked likely.
This wasn’t the Dublin side of last summer, the one that bettered Kilkenny for the first time in the Championship since 1942.
This was more akin to the versions they lost to the Cats by 19, 11 and 18 points between 2010 and 2012.
Daly surmised at one point that teams just have a bad day sometimes and that much is true. Yet, this must be a worry, for Dublin were surely far enough into their journey to have thought that such bum notes had been removed from the chorus.
Why they’re not? Who can say?
“Talking about it after the parade, [selector] Shane Martin said to me ‘everything is ready’ but the great imponderable is you just don’t know. Ah, lookit, I’ve often been in tension-filled rooms and fellas went out and hurled great.
“Sometimes there’s no tension, you think everything is right... it just didn’t click into gear today at all. But, credit to Kilkenny. I would give them great credit. They’ve really shown that they’re entitled to be All-Ireland favourites over the last few weeks.
“They might have let Galway off the hook, but they didn’t the last day and they didn’t today. They’ll be hard beat. They’re a step ahead of us in the pecking order. They’re Leinster champions.”
He would have beamed beforehand had he been offered a scoreline in which his lot managed more goals than Kilkenny. Yet, the final tally of 1-9 was the most obvious evidence of a performance that fell so short of expectations. “Yeah, 1-9 wouldn’t win you a minor match,” he admitted.
It was, as a matter of interest, their lowest tally since Kilkenny held them to nine points in the provincial semi-final two years ago: a defeat that was followed swiftly, by another and elimination from the All-Ireland by Clare next time out. The post-mortem needs to be thorough, and Daly made the first prognosis yesterday. Touch and intensity, he highlighted. Both short of the mark required.
Amidst the gloom, there were rays of light. Dublin were guilty of over-elaboration time and again and might have been punished more for their, at times, languid style out of defence, but those same defenders earned praise for their day’s work, too.
Goalkeeper, full-back line and Stephen Hiney were singled out. More will need to earn such attention in the aftermath of their All-Ireland quarter-final in three weeks’ time if the season is to be saved. But can it?
“I’m not sure. You just appeal to their character. You say: ‘what we do we do now? Do we stand up? Are we going to have a lash off this?’ The easy option is just to say: ‘ah, this wasn’t our year.’ But that won’t do in three weeks’ time. We just look for the characters in the room and, already, you can see it down there. They will have a good lash at it.
“I can’t say for certain sitting here, but from what I’ve seen from them in the past when they’ve lost, they’ve picked up their heads and gone again. That’s what I hope’ll happen.”
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