Dublin a different proposition this time


ALL-IRELAND HURLING QUARTER-FINAL: GAVIN CUMMISKEYon Limerick and Dublin’s 2009 championship clash, and how Dublin have matured since, according to selector Richie Stakelum

ON THE proviso that championship hurling is the only real barometer of progress, Dublin and Limerick meeting in an All-Ireland hurling quarter-final this Sunday is ideal.

In 2009 the same fixture took place at the same venue with Tipperary and Kilkenny waiting patiently in August.

Limerick, then under the guidance of Justin McCarthy, won that game at Semple Stadium by four points.

Dublin had held pace with Kilkenny in that year’s Leinster final, in contrast to this season’s comprehensive defeat, and until it really mattered, looked well capable of handling a Limerick side that were subsequently crushed by Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.

With 10 minutes remaining, two years ago, James Ryan’s third point levelled matters. An anti-climatic end game, especially considering the surrounds, saw Andrew O’Shaugnessy and Gavin O’Mahony frees put Dublin away.

The general feeling afterwards was the Limerick hurlers were not prepared to let themselves be turned over by Dublin. Old heads like Mark Foley and Brian Geary simply wouldn’t allow it.

This theory was put to Richie Stakelum yesterday. The Dublin selector, and former Tipperary captain, didn’t feel the need to contest it.

“I’m not going to second guess them. Limerick have a rich hurling tradition and have been part of some great days, having played in some great Munster finals.

“Two years ago their experience told. Mark Foley stood out, Brian Geary was their talisman that day and when the going got really serious Stephen Lucey stood up in their full-back line. All three of them did.

“I don’t think Gavin O’Mahony missed a free that day either. They were deserving winners.

“Yeah, their experience pulled them through.”

Things have changed. Dublin won the league this year before beating Galway and Offaly in the Leinster championship, while their under-21s retained the Leinster title last week.

Limerick too have moved on after a messy 2010 that saw a host of players walk of the panel due to McCarthy’s presence. Donal O’Grady came in, guided them unbeaten through Division Two, as they adopted his usual short game philosophy that delivered an All-Ireland to Cork.

If not for a late goal from Waterford’s John Mullane, they would have made the Munster final.

The main difference, however, between 2009 and this Sunday is the Dublin teenagers are now in their early twenties. Stakelum sees that maturation as hugely significant.

“Yeah, there are similarities. It is the same time of year. It is in Thurles and we are the first game. But we are a completely different team now. The likes of Oisín Gough, David Treacy and Liam Rushe were only kids just out of school.

“We have also suffered a lot since. Both us and the players. The management has also learned a lot too.

“Limerick are different as well; they have improved dramatically. Sure, Mark Foley and Andrew O’Shaughnessy are gone now but Donal O’Grady is there and you can be sure they will be playing a different brand of hurling.”

Treacy has returned from a troublesome hamstring injury and will most likely be used off the bench, while Tipperary-born Ryan O’Dwyer returns home having served a suspension that denied him a run out in the Leinster final.

Also, Joey Boland has three weeks’ training banked having been clearly unfit against Kilkenny following a dislocated shoulder.

“David Treacy has got himself into fantastic condition these past four or five weeks. It has been a long road as this time last year he was destroyed by a cruciate and then he pulled his hamstring against Galway. Okay, he has not started a competitive match since but he remains a live option for us. He is back to the hurler we had two years ago.

“Ryan O’Dwyer is a very strong, assertive man. It means he wins his own ball in the half-forward line or at the very least makes it difficult for defenders to clear it. He is back available and fresh.

“Joey had dislocated his shoulder and entered the Leinster final with trepidation having not taken a real bang on it. We took a gamble there and it didn’t work.”

Losing the aforementioned three, Boland being replaced against Kilkenny, and the absence of captain Stephen Hiney and full-back Tomás Brady, meant too many areas were left exposed with Henry Shefflin, Richie Power and Eoin Larkin in such ruthless form.

“We performed poorly against Kilkenny,” Stakelum admits.

“I think we got too fixated on how to cope with them to the detriment of focusing on ourselves. We forgot about the simple saying of controlling the controllable. We have gone back to that.”

Limerick may have lost Foley, a two-time All Star, from their half-back line and the finishing of Ollie Moran and O’Shaughnessy will also be missed but in Declan Hannon and Kevin Downes, they appear to have unearthed forwards that will carry them through a generation.

“Downes has pace and scores goals. What more can you ask from a forward?

“Young Hannon; there is Stakelum blood running through him. We are related on his mother’s side; she was Nora Stakelum. First cousins. So he must be a good hurler!”