Liam Rushe is ready for a new summer, even though the last one ended so badly and so quickly
Dublin’s former Young Hurler of the Year looking forward to Wexford test
Dublin’s Liam Rushe who will be in action against Wexford this evening. Photograph: Inpho
In a gloriously sun-trapped café just off the N4, Liam Rushe takes a seat and laughs his scattiness away. Newly graduated from DIT, he starts in PwC come October so until then his hardest work is his leisure. On the day the Leaving Cert begins, the attendant arrival of summer has had him out playing golf. He is well. He is happy. He is sunburnt.
“I took care of everything!” he protests. “Arms, face, neck – all covered in suncream. But I forget the backs of my legs. I always forget the legs. I never even think of them. So I’m scalded today.”
It’s a small load, readily carried. Slagging fodder at worst.
Dublin’s championship starts tonight in Wexford Park with a fixture that’s only crying out for some heat to be turned up on it. Two sides who have fallen all the way to the streets, a pair of down-and-outs with notions. If someone was looking for directions to the All-Ireland final, you’d advise them not to start from here.
Rushe won’t hear of it though.
“Can’t wait,” he says. “It’s taken a while to come around, I suppose because we were out so early last year. But we’ve done okay. We’ve achieved our goals and we’ve got out of Division 1B. Okay, we got another little trimming in the league semi-final against Tipperary. But at least we can be sure that there’s no fear of overconfidence this time around.”
Some difference between this year and last. Dublin came into the 2012 championship as the insiders’ outsider, a guerrilla army that wouldn’t even need the element of surprise to pounce on Kilkenny. That Brian Cody’s side beat them in the Leinster semi-final was obviously no disgrace. This was napalm death though, to the tune of 18 points. Dublin were the coming team who never arrived.
“It goes so quick. That game went by in a flash. I don’t know why, we thought we were ready and we stuck with them for the first 20 minutes. I think maybe the goals just punctured our confidence. It probably reminded us of games before against them when it was the goals that killed us.
“It’s always been the goals, they’ve always had two goals on us. I’ve played them in two Leinster finals and both times it was the goals that kept us at arm’s length. So when they got those two against us last year, we collectively maybe went, ‘Ah, here we go again.’ We just settled for a defeat then.”
A fortnight later, the season was over. Clare mugged them down in Ennis and everything they’d built over the previous two years was dust. Even now, it’s a day Rushe struggles to resolve for himself. They were alive and then they were dead. Tents in a tornado.
“I honestly don’t know what happened. I seriously don’t. Against Kilkenny, it’s obvious – they got the two goals and we had difficulty getting it back. But against Clare, the game was as good as won. It really was. It should have been signed, sealed and delivered. We were up by four or five points 10 minutes into the second half and they had a man sent off. Honestly, I’m still asking myself what happened in that game.”
All in all, it was a year to throw on the bonfire. Raise a drink to its eternal repose and go be someone else for a while. Rushe high-tailed it to Boston and hurled for Galway, before coming home and finishing college.
Winter came and Dublin met up again, each of them had a theory about what had gone so badly wrong. In the end, they’d forgotten the oldest cliché in sport. They forgot to take each game as it came. They thought they were All-Ireland contenders, which was possibly fair enough. But they thought it in June, which was pointless.
“I think we probably got ahead of ourselves and just thought it was going to carry on automatically from the previous year. We just forgot all the hard work that went into 2011. And even then, what did we do in 2011? We only got to an All-Ireland semi-final, we weren’t good enough to win it out. So I think we got ahead of ourselves and we saw people writing us up and talking us up and we thought it would just follow on.
“People might claim they saw it happening but that’s always hindsight. At the time, there’s nobody screaming and shouting, saying, ‘Look, we’re getting ahead of ourselves’. We thought we were building, we thought we were coming nicely. I thought it myself, definitely.”
Complacency is a virus. Warning against it once it has taken root is like sending antibiotics in after it. It won’t work. It can’t work. The damage is done and you’ve got some agony in the post. For all that they thought they hadn’t been complacent, it only took 140 minutes of Kilkenny and Clare for them to feel reality’s bite. All that build-up, all that expectation and it amounted to nothing.
“We tell ourselves we don’t feel it,” Rushe says. “You like to think you shut the media and everyone else out and that you can leave it all at the door of the dressingroom. But obviously last year it did have some effect. I think maybe we got on our own bandwagon and started to believe the things that were written about us. We won’t do that again.”
Chance would be a fine thing. Dublin’s bandwagon is under pretty secure lock and key just now. Wexford town won’t heave under the weight of the Dublin travelling support tonight and though they should come through it without a huge amount of drama, a win will only buy them an another afternoon against Kilkenny. Plus, they’re coming off the back of another torching in the league semi-final against Tipperary.
“Ah look, we were miles off the pace in that game,” he says. “There was a bit of a gulf there, there’s no point denying it. We’ve parked it but I guess we can pull it out and use it as easy motivation if we want at some stage. Mind you, there’s a lot of easy motivation going around! It was bit of an embarrassment, wasn’t it?
‘A bit tired’
“I suppose we were a bit tired going into it, we had done a fair bit of training in the lead-up to it. Looking back at the video, we did look a bit sluggish and slow out to the ball. Having said that, 15 points is still pretty embarrassing.”
But enough. Rushe will be 23 in a couple of weeks and the ins and outs of the odd hammering is of no interest to him really. His hurling education was built on handing out those kind of beatings at underage and the confidence he built up then will sustain him a while yet.
He’s been an All Star, he’s been the Young Hurler of the Year and the notion that he’ll go through life forever under the thumb of the higher-ups makes no sense to him. Dublin are low-profile, they’ve no injuries to worry about (for once), they’re ready for the road. It’s Wexford first up and then whatever happens, happens.
But first, a pressing issue. Time to find some aftersun.