The man with the plan sees grey skies turn blue for Dublin hurling
Michael O’Grady believes one MacCarthy Cup would be worth five football All-Irelands
Danny Sutcliffe slips past the challenge of defender Tommy Walsh to score the goal that made sure of the Dublin hurlers’ historic Leinster championship victory over Kilkenny. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
A hurling All-Ireland for Dublin would be worth five football equivalents, according to former county hurling manager Michael O’Grady, who also chaired the 2001 Dublin Hurling Review Group.
Last Saturday saw the first championship win over Kilkenny in almost exactly 71 years, since the 1942 Leinster final in Nowlan Park and for O’Grady the breakthrough replay victory over the All-Ireland champions has endorsed the extensive development work carried out in the county on foot of his group’s proposals 12 years ago.
“In the past 12 months people have been doubting the whole Dublin hurling project because of the difficulties of the senior team.
“While they weren’t able to play with much fluidity that’s not the way to gauge the success of the whole project but I accept that a county senior team is seen as a benchmark.
“Yet hurling’s never been stronger at juvenile level and as was stated in the annual report last year there has been a 12 per cent increase in the number of teams playing hurling.
“Look at the bigger picture: there were eight clubs competitive in last year’s Féile, which was hosted in Dublin.
“St Brigid’s won but the biggest proof for me was the presence of what had been primarily football clubs, Clontarf and Whitehall Colmcilles.
“The combined Dublin colleges won an All-Ireland (in 2006) but it’s even better there are now three Dublin teams competing: Coláiste Eoin and the two regional teams (north and south Dublin). I’m happy not to be winning when there are around 90 hurlers involved in senior colleges, rather than the 30 of a few years ago.
“But it’s a great relief to be back where we were, in the top frame. We might have it all to do in terms of the weekend’s Leinster final but at last there’s a feeling we’re building on where we were two years ago.”
Back in 2011, Dublin beat Kilkenny to win the county’s first national league in 72 years and reached the All-Ireland semi-finals for the first time in half a century but the achievements were overshadowed by a significant revenge beating by Kilkenny in that year’s Leinster final.
Defeating Kilkenny in championship had become the watershed aspiration for Dublin but after another merciless trimming 12 months ago the goal looked as distant as ever.
“What happened last Saturday was what people expected 12 months ago when we turned up thinking that there was a great chance – that the league match when they scored six goals in Nowlan Park had been a stepping stone. But we were so flat that day, as if the players had put in so much effort that they couldn’t lift it for the match.”
He identifies the crucial score on Saturday, Danny Sutcliffe’s goal, as being emblematic of the change in attitude and the exuberance of youth.
“Danny’s goal – being a young lad he went for the goal – came when we really needed the score. When Dotsy O’Callaghan’s chance was blocked Danny got the ball and the cautious thing might have been to make sure of the point but he brushed past Tommy Walsh and hit it low into the net.”
Another event in 2011 had a bearing. Dublin won the football All-Ireland for the first time since 1995. For a crop of talented under-age dual players the big ball exerted a centrifugal force that drew them out of hurling’s orbit. But O’Grady believes Dublin hurling has attained sufficient stature that it shouldn’t be looking for the grace and favour of dual players.
“It’s been a bone of contention. Having watched the under-21s play [and lose to] a good Carlow team, you had to notice that Dublin on the night had two dual players, who hadn’t been hurling after joining the football panel.
“That makes a difference. If it’s not possible for Ciarán Kilkenny, who’s a serious hurler – and a serious footballer, as he proved on Sunday – who’s going to be able to do it? The codes are not even related, in my view.
“I believe we don’t need the dual player because there are enough hurlers who are good enough. It’s just not possible to go from hurling to football.
“I proposed to the county board only recently that dual players should be asked to commit to football for one year and then hurling for the next, just to see how they go with each.
“I know it’s probably not possible to get players to make that sort of commitment but maybe if it became an established practice in future it could work.”
He understands the lure. Football has always been far greater box office in Dublin than hurling but O’Grady emphasises the power to make history, to be part of a new era, is more strongly vested in hurling.
More chance of glory
“Of that there is no doubt. Look at the crowd in Croke Park. I’m not blaming players; I’m just saying there’s actually more chance of glory with the hurlers.
“There hasn’t been a hurling All-Ireland in Dublin since 1938 – and only one Dubliner on that team – so in my view a hurling All-Ireland would be worth five football titles.
“Win one and the team become all-time legends – there would be massive glory to be on that team.”
To create a genuine new era, he feels players should choose early what game they would prefer to concentrate on, which would allow wider involvement at the elite levels from a younger age.
“I think young fellas should make up their mind at 16. Pick a code and stick with it.
“You’ll become better and won’t be keeping places on a panel from committed hurlers or footballers, who could develop by being part of the county set-up.
“People point at the All-Irelands lost – two under-21 finals and two minor finals. Those experiences are all part of it and I think we would give all of them for one senior All-Ireland.”