Ciarán Murphy: Dublin need to turn Kilkenny negative into a positive

Gilroy's side have a lot to be feeling good about ahead of difficult trip to Wexford Park

Dublin’s Chris Crummey with Richie Leahy of Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC Round 1 match at  Parnell Park last Sunday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Dublin’s Chris Crummey with Richie Leahy of Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC Round 1 match at Parnell Park last Sunday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

His words were instructive enough, but it was the look of utter devastation on his face as Dublin’s Chris Crummey picked up his man-of-the-match award on The Sunday Game last weekend that really told the story.

Moments before, he’d been asked for his thoughts as Dublin went down to a late Kilkenny goal to lose a game they’d been winning for 72 of the 76 minutes played.

“Yeah, it’s absolute devastation in that dressing-room there. No one gave us a chance but we knew that performance was in us. But we can’t dwell on it now. In seven days’ time we’ve got a massive game against Wexford so we’re really going to have to focus in on Wexford now.”

He didn’t sound convinced that it could be done. And then, as he shooks hands with the sponsor’s well-meaning representative, who’s probably used to a bit more effervescence in his glass bauble recipients, he turned to the camera and gave a look that reminded one rather of the sort of face you’d pull if you were asked for a selfie at a funeral.

Personal accolades tend not to go to members of the losing side, so the whole farrago of the post-match interview extolling the virtues of a player’s performance seems rather incongruous when the player in question is feeling pretty down about himself.

Exceptional performance

Séamus Hickey memorably had to accept a man-of-the-match award for an exceptional performance for Limerick in that classic All-Ireland semi-final in 2014, a game they lost to a late Richie Power goal for Kilkenny. He tried hard to fight back the tears, the dictionary definition of devastation and disappointment, as a rather embarrassed-looking man in a turban, holding a falcon and representing then-sponsors Etihad, looked on at the whole scene.

Hickey at least had a whole winter to relax and realise that for all of his disappointment, he had contributed in no small way to a great game, and a comedy moment for the ages. Chris Crummy has no such comfort, because next Sunday in Wexford Park is now a defining moment for this Dublin team.

Dublin captain Chris Crummey looks dejected after their defeat to Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC Round 1 match at Parnell Park last Sunday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Dublin captain Chris Crummey looks dejected after their defeat to Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC Round 1 match at Parnell Park last Sunday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

And that’s it – on the first weekend, he became the face of the existential issue at the heart of the new hurling reality. You have to prepare and play like it’s the championship, but recover like it’s the league.

In 2016, the Roscommon footballers had cut a swathe through the early stages of Division 1, winning four games at a canter, but their summer was seen as a total washout. They nearly lost to New York, defeated Leitrim and Sligo to qualify for a Connacht final, only to lose heavily in a replay to Galway.

Championship games are events – they aren’t part of a season, they’re standalone occasions, with their own unique build-up and aftermath, win or lose

Just a week after that replay defeat, they were out in the qualifiers against Clare in Pearse Stadium, and the narrative before the game very quickly became that Roscommon were up against it because of the quick turnaround.

Excuses

Maybe people inside the Roscommon camp heard that, and maybe they didn’t, but the excuses being pre-emptively offered up became fact when they tamely exited the championship. The reaction afterwards mirrored the chat in the build-up: “You could have seen that coming.” It nearly became a fait accompli that they would lose, as if it’s just not possible for GAA players to turn a season around in six or seven days.

Championship games are events – they aren’t part of a season, they’re standalone occasions, with their own unique build-up and aftermath, win or lose. That’s the contradiction Chris Crummey came face-to-face with last Sunday evening, and that’s what 120 Munster championship hurlers will come face to face with this Sunday evening also. They will be battling against 130-ish years of universally-held truisms.

We will very quickly become expert at watching out for the many ways to lose a championship game. Offaly lost by 12 points in the end to Galway, but how bad would they be feeling afterwards? Not great, sure, but was there enough in that performance to suggest that Wexford at home, and Dublin away, are two games in which they can still be really, really competitive? Without doubt.

And, Chris Crummey’s post-match face notwithstanding, Dublin have plenty to be feeling good about too. Take the words of Jackie Tyrrell from last Friday in these pages: “We can only go on the evidence of what we’ve seen so far this year, and at the minute all I see when it comes to Dublin is negativity, questions and a lack of cohesion.”

They have a little more to hang their hat on now. If they can be the early adaptors, if they can learn how to forget years of established thinking, park a defeat and move on, then they can start looking up the Leinster championship table, not down.

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