Talk of a first All-Ireland hurling title for Dublin since 1938 flew loosely from the lips of Anthony Daly’s players last year.
Now they find themselves 140 minutes away from their goal and yet any mention of Liam MacCarthy remains strictly taboo.
Such a reluctance to discuss the possibility of a national breakthrough, which everyone else is contemplating after the county claimed a first senior provincial title since 1961 two days ago, speaks volumes for the distance the new Leinster champions have travelled in the last 18 months.
Ryan O’Dwyer has explained why better than most.
“Looking back on last year, I wish someone pulled me aside and hit me in the jaw or something because from the first Walsh Cup game I was talking about All-Irelands. This year now, no, it’s semi-final now. There’s no point in thinking about even winning the semi-final, but performing in it.
“Anthony Daly has admitted that himself. If we performed as well as we can [against Galway] and didn’t win then we’d still be able to say, ‘fair enough, we were beaten by the better team’. So, all we’re focusing on is performance, we’re not focusing on results.”
Dublin’s transformation is all the more impressive when the timeframe is squeezed further to the five short weeks between their first championship outing against Wexford and their display in the Leinster final, but selector Richie Stakelum insisted there had never been any doubts.
“All we were saying [after the draw with Wexford] was, look, we put it up to the players that they hadn’t performed. In effect, I think [Ger] Loughnane used the word ‘constipated hurling’ and that’s exactly what it was. They were playing with fear. They weren’t prepared to cut loose and have a go.
“Michael Carton was the one player that evening who decided ‘feck this’, stepped up the field and banged over a point. That set a tone and we talked about that and said, ‘that’s where we want you to play. Step out of yourselves and go and fecking be the hurlers that ye can be’.”
That approach was given extra credence by Tommy Dunne, the former Tipperary captain who has been drafted in to take the odd training session, the latest of which was only last Wednesday evening.
Dunne stressed the need for Dublin to take ownership of the occasion by stepping out to the ball, but then use it in a measured manner, and the team’s ability to record 2-25 — with all but three points of it from play — attests to the fact that they did just that.
All told, the ability of Daly and his managerial team to claw back the momentum lost in 2012 has been nothing short of phenomenal given they lost key people such as trainer Martin Kennedy and Tomás Brady to the footballers and David Curtin to retirement.
They have done so by pushing all the right buttons this summer, with new trainer Ross Dunphy sensing when the players needed to be pushed and when they needed rest.
A lack of injuries has been no less central to their ability to sail through a demanding five weeks, even if the ghosts of seasons past continue to serve as reminders as to how quickly everything can go pear-shaped.
“You doubt yourself but last year is behind us and you’re only as good as your next game,” said O’Dwyer. “We won [this time] but if we go out the next day and fail we’ll have everyone saying we’re useless, we’re this, we’re that.”
In one sense they are right back where they found themselves last January — a team trailed by hope and expectation — and they now face five long weeks of competitive inaction before they can look to walk the walk after all the talk.
“All we can do is put our faith in the management team,” said O’Dwyer. “They’ll have everything planned, I know they will. I’m sure we’ll take it easy over the next couple of days but after that training will ramp up again. We’ll be back training away the way we were.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved