Dublin's Liam Rushe refusing to panic despite the ominous signs
Captain says young guns must grab their chance as Dublin face tough trip to Cork
Liam Rushe: “These lads have the same route to travel. Ger [Cunningham] has given them the rope. It’s up to them to seize their opportunity.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
History has a tendency to repeat itself and Liam Rushe is at least hopeful of that. It’s about all the Dublin’s hurlers have to hope for in an otherwise daunting trip to Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday evening.
Eight years ago, straight out of the minor grade, Rushe was dropped in at the deep end when Dublin played Cork down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Cork were in the midst of the infamous ‘strike’ and largely understrength, yet Rush still played the proverbial blinder, scoring two goals. Still only 18, he was later nominated as hurler of the month.
That was February 2009, and eight years on, Dublin manager Ger Cunningham could do with something similar from the three minors he’s dropped deep into his panel this year: Paddy Smyth, Cian O’Sullivan and Donal Burke.
There will be no favours from his native county in a game which could significantly shape Division 1A. Another victory for Cork, who beat Clare in round one, would effectively secure them a quarter-final; another defeat for Dublin, who lost heavily to Tipperary last Saturday night, and their campaign is effectively grounded.
Rushe is typically optimistic, even at the worst times, and continues to put on a brave front in the face of worrying times for Dublin hurling. It’s the reason Cunningham has retained him as Dublin captain for 2017.
Still, chief among those worries is the absence of so many experienced players, who for a variety of reasons have stepped away: former captain Johnny McCaffrey, Paul Ryan, Shane Durcan, Peter Kelly, Niall Corcoran and Joey Boland are no longer involved, while the most glaring absentee is Danny Sutcliffe, the 2013 All Star, still only 24, who opted out last year and has no intention of returning for 2017 either.
Another former Dublin star, Conal Keaney, told RTÉ last week that “personalities really came into it” and “they [Cunningham and Sutcliffe] just clashed”.
Some of those players left quietly critical parting shots against the Dublin set-up.
“I suppose it was difficult, for a couple of us, because it was players that we’d soldiered with for years,” says Rushe. “I know they were directed at management but at the same time you would kind of feel it’s directed at the panel and the performances over the past couple of years.
Rushe certainly has faith in the graduating minors, partly because he was there himself: “They are obviously young, but you’re going to start at some stage. I was 18, straight out of minor as well, the first year I came on and started making starts. So it’s great just to feel the buzz coming off them. They’re excited to be in, excited to see what the standard is like and set themselves against it.
“It’s on them just to seize their opportunity. The year I came in it was something similar. Anthony Daly gave me a start, I think it was Dubs Stars, then Walsh Cup, and then league. So these lads have the same route to travel. Ger has given them the rope. It’s up to them to seize their opportunity.”
Naturally absent too are the Cuala contingent, Cian O’Callaghan, Paul Schutte, Seán Moran, Oisín Gough, Darragh O’Connell, Jake Malone, Mark Schutte and David Treacy, all preparing for an AIB All-Ireland club semi-final against Slaughtneil on Saturday week. (Along with the injured Eamonn Dillon, Cian Boland, Chris Bennett and Daire Gray, a minor last year).
Rushe believes Cuala’s progression can only be good for Dublin hurling in the long run: “It would obviously have been nice to have them around, not even for playing purposes, just to integrate them into what is largely a new panel. But it’s great for Dublin hurling that Cuala are going so far, that we’ve finally broken that Leinster barrier after I don’t know how many years. They’ve a good run, an opportunity of getting to an All-Ireland final, so we’re all behind them.
“There was also the fear there that you might not bring in new panel members and if you had the six or seven Cuala players, you mightn’t see as much of the new. I suppose I’m an optimist but I look at it positively.”
Should Dublin hurlers’ poor run continue in the long run, compared to the footballer’s enduringly impressive run, more players will inevitably drift towards football. Con O’Callaghan, the star of Cuala’s triumphant run in Leinster, has already indicated his intention to opt for football.
“Look, the young players make their decision,” says Rushe.
“Personally I would have always gone with hurling just because I preferred it. If they are being swayed by the bright lights so be it.”
Either way, it’s the turn of the Dublin hurlers to do some swaying under the lights of Páirc Uí Rinn.