Top-tier honours no longer beyond ambitious Dublin

National League final win over Kilkenny in 2011 proved a huge moment in the development of Anthony Daly’s side

Dublin celebrate in front of their fans on Hill 16 following their victory over Kilkenny in the Allianz National Hurling League final in 2011. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Dublin celebrate in front of their fans on Hill 16 following their victory over Kilkenny in the Allianz National Hurling League final in 2011. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Sat, Jul 5, 2014, 01:00

Here is how it was. By the spring of 2011, Dublin had played 22 games under Anthony Daly in league and championship. Their record going into the league that February read Won 9 Lost 12 Drew 1 – and if you thought that seemed reasonable enough for who they were, you wouldn’t have been alone.

The numbers weren’t terrible and they weren’t great either. Two of the league wins were against Cork and Limerick, both of whom were wading through swamps of familial strife at the time. Their only victories in the Leinster championship were against Antrim, Laois and Wexford. They’d played Kilkenny four times and lost four times. But again, this was Dublin. What did you expect?

When the odds were drawn up for the 2011 league, there was no stampede of punters looking to take the 66/1 on them. Indeed, the closing paragraph of The Irish Times league preview declared “arguably the most important battle will be at the bottom of the table, where Dublin, Wexford and Offaly will try to retain their places”.

Maurice O’Brien had been on the panel a couple of seasons at that point. Transplanted from Limerick, for whom he’d played up until his mid-20s, the main differences he’d found after the move were tied up in exactly those perceptions.

“I came in from Limerick where we were in an All-Ireland final in 2007. I came to Dublin to find the hurlers were every bit as good but they didn’t consider themselves contenders the way Limerick did. Limerick would always have thought they were in the hunt no matter what had happened the previous year. Whereas Dublin didn’t really have that when it came to the crunch.

Psychological work

“That winter was the first time we had Declan Coyle on board. He did a lot of psychological work with us and got us into the frame of mind that we were as good as what was out there. Why shouldn’t we be able to compete? Maybe before that, we didn’t really have the belief. We definitely didn’t have the psychological work done.

“Declan had a massive impact on us straight away. The way he put it was that once you got beaten in the championship, you were going to be down in the dumps anyway so why not aim high? What’s the worst that can happen? I remember thinking that it was the first time anyone had said it, the first time anyone talked about us being contenders.”

Along with Coyle, they would add Conal Keaney and Ryan O’Dwyer as well. They drew with Waterford before beating Tipperary, Offaly and Wexford to stand top of the league unbeaten after four games. Their sole defeat came against Galway but they rounded out the group games with a late-snatched draw against Kilkenny and a one-point win in Cork on the last day. When the radio confirmed Galway had lost by a point to Waterford, it meant Dublin were into their first league final since 1946.

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