When John Costello steps down as Dublin chief executive next month, there might be some disappointment that the county’s hurlers never managed to catch the Blue Wave over the last decade.
For if the Dublin footballers surpassed expectations with unprecedented success, their small-ball counterparts found themselves eternally mired in hurling’s chasing pack.
When Dublin GAA launched Unleashing the Blue Wave – their strategic plan for 2011-17, the ambitions were lofty. Aim for the moon and you might hit the stars, kind of stuff.
In outlining the key performance targets for their intercounty teams, the aspirations were to “win a senior football All-Ireland every three years” and to “win a senior All-Ireland hurling final every five years”.
The Dublin hurlers won the National Hurling League in 2011 and captured a Leinster SHC in 2013, but then the upward trajectory entered a cul-de-sac. They have been trying to find the way back out ever since.
Eoghan O’Donnell, who joined the senior panel in 2014, has captained the team and become one of the county’s standout players during a difficult decade when the ambitions of landing a first Liam MacCarthy since 1938 appeared to grow more fanciful with every passing year.
Their 2023 championship aspirations came to an end with a 5-26 to 2-17 loss to Clare in an All-Ireland quarter-final at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds. Dublin were outclassed on the pitch and clearly outnumbered in the stands that day.
“Of course we would have loved more Dublin fans and for people to have your back but the harsh reality is we haven’t done enough to deserve the support of fans,” says O’Donnell.
“We need to show Dublin hurling people that we are a hard-working team and are willing to earn their loyalty and earn their days off, it’s a long trip to Limerick and we need to earn the right for people to come and watch us play. That’s something we are very aware of.”
O’Donnell is one of the few players who has experienced it from both the perspective of a Dublin hurler and a Dublin footballer. He linked up with Dessie Farrell’s senior football panel during the 2022 championship.
It was always intended to be a short-term arrangement, coming as it did after the Dublin hurlers exited their championship last summer, so he wasn’t on-board with the footballers this year when they claimed Sam Maguire
“You ask me would I have loved to win an All-Ireland? Of course I would have. What am I supposed to say to that? Of course I would,” says O’Donnell.
“But what I would say is I’ve put a lot of work into Dublin hurling, I think next year is my 11th year on the panel and to win something with the hurlers would be as sweet as anything you could possibly imagine.”
And O’Donnell does not agree Dublin hurling has plateaued since the Leinster final success under Anthony Daly a decade ago.
“I think the struggle for Dublin hurling is that everyone is going forward, and everyone is going forward at a rapid pace,” he says. “If you look at the top teams out there, which we would have considered ourselves part of or in the chasing pack, the progress and standard of hurling is just unbelievable.
“The strength and conditioning, the tactics, the skill level, the bar is continuously getting higher. We are definitely making progress – we just need to make progress a small bit quicker than other teams.”
The 2024 campaign will mark Micheál Donoghue’s second year in the capital, with the expectation that his team can position themselves as challengers for major silverware. But O’Donnell didn’t see 2023 as a year of transition under the Galway native.
“I don’t like that word because we didn’t view it like that. We went out the same as always to put our best foot forward to try perform and win games.
“We made progress, definitely. It was a hugely disappointing result against Clare, partly because it obviously finished our season but mainly because we didn’t do ourselves justice.”
O’Donnell sees a provincial title as a realistic target in 2024 and when the great debate over whether the Dublin hurlers should play in Parnell Park or Croke Park, the Whitehall Colmcille man believes the latter serves the team’s aimsbetter.
“We love Parnell Park, absolutely, we love the atmosphere there. But Croke Park is where you win All-Irelands and if you want to win them you have to win and succeed there.
“I think our style of play has evolved over the years, we used to be a very physical, big team. We’ve probably transitioned away from that and are trying to play a more expressive game and I think Croke Park suits that.”
O’Donnell has been operating as a forward with the Whitehall hurlers during the club championship in the capital this summer – plundering goals and proving a real scoring threat. It would certainly be some roll of the dice if O’Donoghue was to chance his full back at the other end of the pitch for Dublin in 2024.
“I don’t think so, it’s very different at club to county level,” says O’Donnell. “I think when you’re marking top-class guys, the makeshift thing mightn’t work.
“It’ll be a conversation that we’ll have to have whenever we start, but there is a big difference obviously between club and county. And forwards these days have to be very skilful, have to be very sharp and things like that, so we’ll see.”