How hard has it been to pick up your team since last weekend in Portlaoise?
It’s been very difficult. For all of us, players, managerment alike. It was an awful blow to us. We just didn’t perform. We had prepared for that game for so long and we felt we were so right coming into the match that it’s been a very difficult turnaround for us. Then we really only have a week to get ready for Clare in the Park, well that’s makes it an even taller order. I mean nobody knows better than me how hard Clare are to beat at home in the championship. We loved getting games there. And there was a reason why Tipp, Limerick and Waterford never liked coming to Ennis, because it was always worth a few points to us.
When I was with Clare we played Waterford there in the qualifiers and we weren’t really fancied but we scored 4-14 and beat them. That was a seriously good Waterford side, so we’re only too aware of the value of the home draw for Clare.
Are ye over the Kilkenny match now?
Look, that’s hard to say. We’ll only be able to answer that at about nine o’clock on Saturday night. You never know how a team respond to a loss like that until you are in the next game. On the plus side, this match is as tough as we could get so we can’t wallow too much about what happened, we have to really knuckle down because this is a huge match, with the losers out of the championship. And the negative side is the same answer, Clare in the Park? Especially this improving Clare side who were unlucky to lose to Waterford? Well, sure this will make or break us I suppose.
What’s the mood in the Dublin camp as compared to two weeks ago?
I’d be lying if I said we were all flying and looking forward to Saturday night in the best frame of mind. We’re not, we’re low but we have to try and put it behind us. The Kilkenny match was some knock to us and now we have a test as hard as that was. We have to recover as best we can and we have to look at this match for what it is, a chance to stay in the championship. Forget about proving any points about the last day and other talk that will be going about the place – this match simply has to be won or our year is over and all the work we have done for the last six months is out the window in two weeks. It’s the same for Clare. This is do or die. They’re at home and they’re strong, and they’re coming. It’s stacked against us. We need to perform and we need to do it for seventy minutes too or we’re gone. And at that, it still mightn’t be enough. So the mood is grim. We all know the stakes involved here.
The bookies have made ye favourites?
Bookies don’t play hurling!
Sure no team pays any attention to that. And anyway Clare in Cusack Park is up there with Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. Unlike the Pairc Ui Chaoimh’s, Croke Park’s and Semple Stadium’s of this world, teams have little or no experience of playing championship hurling at a venue like this. None of this Dublin team will have experienced the Park with Clare going well in a championship match. So that’s an unknown for us. Clare probably don’t have enough experience of it themselves, but one thing I do know for sure, when I was playing for Clare, be it the early, mid or late nineties, we would have fancied our chances in the Park against anyone. It’s a big advantage to play a game this important on a field you train on every week. The odds don’t mean a thing.
You know plenty about Clare, surely this is an advantage to you.
I’ve heard that said and I wish it was true, but it really isn’t the case. To know plenty about a team you have to be at every match, you have to see them train, you have to be inside the camp so to speak. Remember I hardly saw any league game because Dublin would have been playing at the same time. What I know about Clare is about the same as any supporter, albeit a real supporter.
But I do know how good they are. I know they could have beaten Waterford and I know all about the potential of this group of players. Some day, and it will be soon, Clare are going to be right back up there. That will make Saturday night bittersweet for me. I’ll be doing my damndest to put that off for one more year.
How bittersweet will it be?
Look it, I don’t care what any manager might say, it is never easy to manage against your county. Two years ago we played a very young Clare side in Croke Park in the qualifiers and we got past them. They were managed then by Sparrow, one of my oldest friends. I was happy we won, I was happy we were in the next round but I felt for Sparrow and I felt for the players because I knew many of them. The same is true of Davy. We were texting each other the day before the draw, we had a feeling we’d meet up. Look, that man and me went through special times and all of us from that time will always have a bond, that will never go away. I have a job to do with Dublin, he has a job to do with Clare and we’ll only be parking that for seventy minutes. It’s far from ideal for either of us, I suppose the only guarantee is that there won’t be anyone celebrating on their knees in front of the other at the final whistle! (laughs)