Anthony Daly under no illusions about mammoth task ahead
Dublin manager always knew this league campaign would be a tight contest
Dublin manager Anthony Daly and selector Richie Stakelum. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
“We’d call it a biggish one,” said Anthony Daly, talking about Dublin hosting Kilkenny and this weekend’s penultimate round of the Allianz Hurling League. He might as well be talking about every game in Division 1 A.
So tight is the league table, and with so little room left for manoeuvre, what happens this weekend can potentially decide who makes the quarter-finals – set for March 30th.
Dublin have home advantage at Parnell Park on Saturday night, but if they lose to Kilkenny, they’ll be left depending on results elsewhere in the last round to keep alive their chances of making the quarter-finals
Otherwise, it’s into the two-way relegation play-off. Dublin are also away in that last round, the Tipperary game on Sunday week set for Nenagh, and that may well prove a teaser for the relegation play-off: Tipperary also have just two points, as do Galway, although Dublin are behind on points difference.
“But that’s this league,” added Daly, the Dublin manager also aware how suddenly things can change. “There was never going to be too many easy ones. But look, we’re at home on Saturday, and we’d be expecting a big performance. If we can get a win there, we’re back on four points, with the last round to come, going to Nenagh. So it will be all to play for. We were under no illusions at the start, and I think most of the managers have said the same, that it was going to be ding-dong.”
The reintroduction of quarter-finals this year has added an extra layer of intrigue. It gives the top-four teams at least one additional game – as they play-off against the top-four teams in Division 1B Dublin may have beaten Kilkenny last summer (twice, some might argue), but they lost out in the Walsh Cup final, and face a Kilkenny team coming off two wins out of two.
Still, Daly wasn’t too downhearted about Sunday’s defeat to Waterford at Walsh Park – although the three-point margin hardly reflected Dublin’s struggle to match Waterford’s greater scoring consistency.
“We were disappointed, coming away,” said Daly, “but I’m awful proud of the way the boys battled. I mean it was very far removed from Salthill (when Dublin lost to Galway by 15 points). It was a horror show in Salthill, then we took most of the chances against Clare (winning by six points). There’ll be good days and bad days, and that’s this league.”
Waterford have now put two good days back-to-back – after the first-round defeat to Tipperary. It’s taken some of the pressure off manager Derek McGrath, in his first season in charge, although things don’t get any easier from here, as they’re actually away for their final two games – against Clare on Sunday, and then Kilkenny on Sunday week.
“Well it’s not often you get the chance to play the All-Ireland champions,” said McGrath. “But we know how good Clare are. The reality is we got two points up there last year, so Clare will be going all guns blazing. We’ll have to improve massively, to compete with Clare, but we’re looking forward to it, all the same.
“And I think we’re gone past the stage where everybody is looking to preserve their status. So we’re looking to go and attack the games against Clare and Kilkenny. Obviously it’s a huge challenge, but it’s great to have had the two home victories behind us.”
McGrath has also confirmed Waterford’s intentions to appeal the straight red card shown to captain Michael “Brick” Walsh, 29 minutes into Sunday’s game, for what certainly appeared to be an accidental strike on Dublin’s Alan McCrabbe.
Even Daly himself agreed that the Waterford player was wrongly sent-off. “It was accidental really,” said the Dublin manager. “I wouldn’t think that’s in ‘Brick’, to be honest with you.”