Nicky English: Stakes already very high for Dublin and Galway

Danny Sutcliffe could give Dubs the edge in a pivotal early-season clash

 Mark Schutte  has been a revelation so far, Dublin’s key man, consistently outstanding from the off. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Mark Schutte has been a revelation so far, Dublin’s key man, consistently outstanding from the off. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Previous form for both counties can be largely discarded because true form can only come out of this game. Victory at Croke Park will kick-start either Galway or Dublin’s assault on a Leinster title. At the very least it provides safer passage into an All-Ireland quarter-final.

A wounded Clare are already waiting in the qualifier minefields so both teams know the stakes.

It doesn’t feel like championship just yet, maybe it’s the weather, but this spectacle should leave us in no doubt that the serious hurling is upon us.

Dublin beat Galway well during the league but Galway had already qualified for the quarter-final. Very little can be taken from the up and down league form that saw Dublin beat Tipp only to be hammered by Cork. They recovered to have Cork on the rack in the league semi-final only to squander a comfortable lead after conceding a late goal.

Evidence of the old Dublin failing remains. They have never been a team that survives off their conversion of scoring opportunities alone. Their percentages are far too low, especially when the pressure comes on.

Fresh voice

Ger Cunningham

Putting Conal Keaney into the half-back line seems to have worked. Well, it looked effective in Parnell Park and Nowlan Park.

Now whether he performs as a true wing back in Croke Park, on summer track, is an entirely different proposition. We shall see. Mark Schutte has been a revelation so far, their key man, consistently outstanding from the off. Chris Crummey is another positive addition to their ranks.

Cian O’Callaghan has impressed me at corner back. I’m not so sure about Liam Rushe at full forward but Dublin need him hurling through their spine, be it at centre back or centre forward. Crummey has being doing a job behind so their need seems greater in the forwards. Rushe wins ball and is the power forward in this highly physical team.

It is also worth noting most of Dublin’s championship preparations have been done without their main attacking threat.

Every team in the country would hand the 12 jersey to Danny Sutcliffe. The entire package is there; ball winning, athleticism, pace and he’s really sharpened his scoring. If he’s tuned right, expect four or five points from play every time he plays. It will take some man, or men, to slow him. He’s a super player and could be the difference on Sunday.

Add Sutcliffe to their ranks, presume the limpness we saw when picked apart far too easily by Tipperary last year has been eradicated and Cunningham’s Dublin look primed for a campaign to rival 2013.

I’m not so sure about Galway.

We know all about the deep well of talent but 2012 feels more and more like an aberration – thrashing Kilkenny in the Leinster final before ultimately bending to Henry Shefflin’s will (and that 1-3 from Walter Walsh) in the All-Ireland final – as that year has been accompanied by mediocrity ever since.

On championship form alone they look superior to Dublin as they forced Kilkenny to a replay last year and had Tipperary beaten until Séamus Callanan struck twice as they were outscored a whopping 2-10 to 0-1 in the final 20 minutes at Thurles.

That looked worse than they deserved. It can happen but I struggled to identify a sustained pattern to their play throughout 2014. I couldn’t see the masterplan. Jonathan Glynn and Joe Canning did most of the damage. Rapid-fire stuff but nothing that will unduly trouble a disciplined Dublin defence.

It looks even more like Dublin’s game to win when we factor in the loss of excellent players like Daithí Burke, David Burke, Niall Burke and Conor Cooney.

At this point 2012 feels like an awfully long time ago. That was supposed to be the start of something special. I expected a settled team under Anthony Cunningham to be among the contenders for a generation. It hasn’t happened that way.

Natural hurlers

This is the year when they must dispel this growing logic. If Cunningham can’t deliver a team to match Galway’s undeniable glut of natural hurlers then they will be left behind. Yet again. If they win Sunday they have a real chance of winning Leinster. So they are not far off. We know to respect them from the manner in which they caught fire in that 2012 Leinster final. And sparked last summer. I’m just not so sure.

If Dublin can convert the chances their physically imposing hurlers are bound to create they should prevail. But form will be born out of this victory and a summer route shaped.

One far straighter than the other.

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