Dublin hurlers produce the first draft
A genuinely historic win over Killkenny sets the scene for further landmarks
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody (right) congratulates manager Anthony Daly after Saturday’s historic victory for the Dublin hurlers in Portlaoise. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The phrase, “journalism is the first rough-draft of history” has predictable appeal for reporters. Providing building blocks for the knowledge and understanding of future generations leaves open possibilities. There may be unidentified significance in what otherwise looks like quotidian grind.
The hope would be some forgotten opinion could be dusted down in decades to come and re-published as an important insight rather than hastily composed tendentiousness – the passage beginning ‘Moran, however, observes ...’ might be accompanied by the forceful jabbing of some historian’s index finger rather than the quizzical arching of his eyebrows.
In fact the phrase probably more accurately reads in a way that doesn’t really dignify journalism as a spotter of trends but more as a narrative of events that others will elevate – or not – into “history” in some unspecified future.
Hype and Dublin – depending on your point of view – either don’t sit well together or are comfortable bedfellows. But what happened at the weekend neatly separates history from hype. Dublin’s footballers steam-rolled Kildare and extended the range of their 16-point beatings from the top of Division Two to the upper reaches of Division One. So far, Jim Gavin’s team has done what has been necessary.
Dublin hurling, however, made genuine history last Saturday. In four days the team has a chance of winning a first provincial title in 52 years but already the milestone of beating Kilkenny has been marked.
Getting the better of Kilkenny won’t always be an end in itself but for Anthony Daly’s team, it is a watershed moment.
Up until this year, under Brian Cody, Kilkenny had lost just seven matches in 14 championships and won nine All-Irelands and 12 Leinster titles. In that period they faced Dublin seven times in the summer. The six-point defeat in the 2009 Leinster final was – by about a light year – the closest the challengers ever got.
Kilkenny’s seven championship wins (including the 2004 qualifiers) were by an average of more than 15 points per match – and includes the past two seasons when Dublin were seen as a threat.
So, even the draw of 10 days ago was a paradigm shift. Kilkenny might have been injury-hit and out of sorts but the mental and emotional energy required to invert that sort of power relationship is enormous.
In an interview with this newspaper yesterday Michael O’Grady – the former Dublin manager and chair of the seminal Hurling Review Group 12 years ago – passionately made the argument that the hard work at ground level, which had laid the necessary foundations of any sustainable improvement in the competitive profile, was the real touchstone.
He is right that those developments, including the wildfire growth of the game within Dublin clubs and the expanding presence at colleges level are positive indications but he’s also realistic enough to acknowledge that success on the biggest stage of all – senior inter-county – is an invaluable promotional aid as well as validation for all the foundation work.
Dublin hadn’t defeated Kilkenny in 71 years. The report on that Leinster final in Nowlan Park was only carried in this paper two days later on the Tuesday in a publication reduced to four pages by wartime newsprint restrictions.
In other words by the time it happened again media and mass communications had changed to the unrecognisable extent that the match could be followed live on the internet and those abroad could be kept up to date by a steady stream of activity on the Twitter machine.
The challenge for Dublin is to turn the making of history into something of historical significance, in other words the latest milestone must be on a road that actually goes somewhere.
Another interesting point made by O’Grady is experience of losing under-age All-Ireland finals is still experience and that if it helps shape a side that ultimately wins a senior All-Ireland, it will have been worth it. For a long time the assumption has been that Dublin need All-Ireland success at minor or under-21.
To date, the Leinster titles in 2005, ’07 and last year (minor) and 2007, ’10 and ’11 (under-21) have led to four defeats in All-Ireland finals plus a draw in the 2012 minor final against Tipperary. But the ability to compete in Leinster means that rising generations of Dublin hurlers have met Kilkenny face-to-face in championship and are no strangers to beating them.
At the GAA’s National Games Development Conference last January, there was a presentation, What Can we Learn Crossmaglen Rangers? by the phenomenally successful Armagh club’s chair Tony Brady and Peter McMahon of the coaching committee.
“At under-age Crossmaglen Rangers does not get hung up on winning and losing,” said McMahon. “We will be competitive – believe me – but not with a win-at-all-costs mentality.
“By focusing on outcome goals such as winning under-age championships we create disenchantment in our youth when it does not happen and they lose that sense of enjoyment before they ever reach senior level. Winning under-age championships should be a bonus.”
Optimising the systems which produce the players of the future has in Dublin’s case provided the first rough-draft of what they hope will unfold in the years ahead as historic achievement.