FOR THE SECOND time in his managerial reign, Mattie Kenny will lead Dublin into championship battle against his native Galway next weekend.
His first outing against the Tribesmen, in the 2019 Leinster round robin, saw Dublin seal a famous 3-19 to 0-24 victory at a heaving Parnell Park. The result, allied to the draw between Wexford and Kilkenny, meant Galway were sensationally dumped out of the championship on 15 June.
Oisin O’Rorke clipped over nine points as Eamonn Dillon, Sean Moran and Chris Crummey hit the net in a heroic Sky Blue performance.
Micheál Donoghue’s men were All-Ireland champions two years earlier and it turned out to be his final game in charge of the county.
“That was a great hurling occasion,” reflected Kenny yesterday.
It was a major victory for the double All-Ireland winning Cuala boss, but the joy was short-lived. Three weeks later, Joe McDonagh Cup champions Laois stunned Dublin in Portlaoise to deliver a hammer blow to the project.
Perhaps that defeat knocked the wind out of their sails for some time.
The team has undergone significant transformation in the intervening years.
Of the 15 that started against Galway two years ago, just seven did so against Antrim.
Liam Rushe lined out at full-forward, Danny Sutcliffe in the corner, Cian Boland at centre-forward, Chris Crummey at centre-back, Paddy Smyth and Eoghan O’Donnell in the full-back line and Alan Nolan in goals.
In their opening championship tie of 2021, only the back three played in the same positions. Crummey has been reinvented as a scoring half-forward, with Sutcliffe on the far flank. Both are excellent puck-out options and scored three apiece in Pairc Tailteann in the 2021 opener.
Boland’s pace and athleticism is now being used as a roving corner-forward and Rush is a solid presence at centre-back.
James Madden, Daire Gray and Ronan Hayes, who all arrived off the bench in 2018, now occupy vital roles on the starting side.
Kenny’s side had a good look to it against Antrim. Much of the criticism aimed at Dublin during the league was that he didn’t know his best team.
He tinkered throughout the league, even employing Rushe at full-forward in the final round against Wexford. It left many wondering about the direction the team was taking.
But after the round 4 loss to Clare, Kenny confidently stated he was please with the way preparation had gone and saw them in ‘good shape’ going forward.
He admitted yesterday that he rotated his team during the league with the view of avoiding injury during the hectic league schedule.
“I think a lot of counties look at it the same, when you look at the league there are five games in a short window.
Dublin manager Mattie Kenny.
Source: John McVitty/INPHO
“Some teams had a three-week break but we had only a two-week break. So that’s a quick turnaround.
“Coming into the last few games of the league, with so many games so quickly, you could see guys beginning to tire a bit so we had to be conscious of that and we had to make sure that we hadn’t a handful of injuries when the championship kicked off this evening.”
This win over Antrim, who finished above Dublin in the league after wins over Clare and Laois, and a draw with Wexford, will give the team a major shot in the arm.
“You’re always trying to bring the stuff that you’re working on on the training ground to the pitch,” he said. “And that works some days. Other days you’ve got to play what’s ahead of you and what’s in front of you.
“But it’s all about the attitude and the mindset that you come into these games with. It’s championship, it’s the first round of the championship here tonight. You have to have that championship mindset and go for everything and attack every ball.”
Their opening game of last year’s knockout Leinster championship was eerily similar to yesterday’s 3-31 to 0-22 win.
Dublin beat Laois by 2-31 to 0-23, in a game lit up by centre-forward Donal Burke (who scored 1-16).
The Na Fianna sharpshooter shot 11 points (0-6 frees) against Darren Gleeson’s side and pulled the strings by delivering some quality ball into the Dublin full-forward line.
Cian Boland, Ronan Hayes and Cian O’Sullivan scored 3-6 between them and looked extremely sharp.
Despite the perception they’ve stagnated in recent years, Dublin were close to having a very good season last year.
It’s been forgotten now, but they almost pulled off one of the comebacks of the championship against Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final.
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Trailing by 16 points on 41 minutes, they launched a stirring fightback until two late Kilkenny scores saw them over the line. The Cats went on to beat Galway in the provincial final.
Galway are rated as the biggest challengers to Limerick’s throne, yet Dublin’s size and athleticism means an upset can’t be ruled out. Stranger things have happened.
“Ask any hurling person in Ireland and I think they’d say that Limerick and Galway are the two favourites for the championship this year,” said Kenny.
“Galway are in massive form at the moment. I’ve watched all their games and the range of scores they have, the way they’re moving the ball, they’re in top, top form.
Cian Boland scored 1-1 against Antrim.
Source: John McVitty/INPHO
“We know going down to Portlaoise next weekend that that’s going to be a massive, massive challenge for us but look, it’s the championship, this is where we want to be, it’s where we want to be playing.
“It’s going to be a big, big test for us and all we can do is look forward to it and go down and do our best.
“Galway are a massive team and we’re going to go down there and we’re going to compete the best we can and we’re going to have a right crack off it and we’ll know more in a week’s time.
“Look, it’s a Leinster semi-final, Galway and Dublin, and I expect it to be a really good game. All we can do is go toe to toe in that game and it’s a Leinster semi-final so you expect every player out on the pitch to give it everything they’ve got.”
Dublin haven’t beaten a big gun since that victory over Galway two years ago and will be looking to repeat the trick next weekend.
“We’re getting ready for a Leinster semi-final, no matter who we’re playing we’re obviously trying to win it. What we’re looking for is to go in there and give the best performance we can on the evening and let the result look after itself.
“I expect it to be a really good game. All we can do is go toe to toe in that game and it’s a Leinster semi-final so you expect every player out on the pitch to give it everything they’ve got.”
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