Dublin boss Anthony Daly begins this National League campaign in the relatively unfamiliar confines of Division 1B, but has no illusions about how difficult it will be to get out of the second tier of spring hurling. Emmet Moloney reports.
“If anything the pressure is greater in Division 1B,” reports the Clarecastle man. “There is only one promotional place and a couple of teams with their eye on it. In the top division a couple of wins secures your status, but in this division, we nearly have to win them all,” he points out.
Clare know all about the difficulties of escaping from this division, having spent three fruitless years trying to get back amongst the elite and Daly saw that himself as a Clare supporter.
“Of course I saw that for myself. I went to plenty of Clare games when they didn’t clash with Dublin fixtures and I know what Sparrow and Davy went through trying to get out of 1B.
“The system now places huge significance on being in the top division and some counties would nearly think getting into Division 1A is more important than championship,” he says.
Does the Dublin manager think that way?
“Nothing is more important than championship. But I’d add a but with that, because the league is what’s in front of us now and this year for us is about one game at a time. So the league is important to us. Whether we get out of the division or not, we must give performances. We have to show last year was just that, in the past, we need to take the league seriously and we will,” he stressed.
So what are Dublin’s prospects?
“Look we know how good our opponents are. And we know they don’t fear Dublin. Offaly and Wexford would always fancy their chances against us and Limerick are a coming side, we all know that. Carlow and Antrim will be relishing a cut at us too. It’s like a mini-Leinster championship with Limerick thrown in!
“We have Offaly first up on Saturday night and that’s as far as we can look. Ollie is in his second year so he’ll know his players well by know, Kilcormac have given Offaly hurling a lift and we all know how dangerous a side they can be,” says the Dublin manager who is now in his fifth year in charge of the Leinster side.
“So there’s no guarantees in this division. Of course we’d like to be back in Division 1A and that’s the goal, but we know how hard it will be at the same time. First things first and that’s Offaly in Parnell Park under lights. We have to be ready for that. We need to start this league with a win,” he added.
And what of Clare’s prospects back in the top tier for the first time in four years?
“I’ve seen a bit of Clare since the start of the year and you’d have to be impressed with them. They certainly appear to be in great shape fitness wise and I wouldn’t be surprised if they come out of the traps flying.
“I’d be very confident they will stay out of the relegation battle and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they are in a league semi-final at the end of it. Now that might also take into account the other Division 1A counties and what they want out of the league because Clare might be taking it the most serious of all, which is common enough for the newly promoted side,” he commented.
Daly’s involvement with LIT Freshers has allowed him to see plenty of hurling these last few weeks and he knows the talent at Davy Fitzgerald’s disposal:
“We all know how strong we are at underage and how strong we have been. But again, there are no guarantees. Division 1A of the league is a big step up for some of these young players and they will have to adjust. The ball moves that little bit quicker at this level, opponents are stronger and you certainly don’t have the same time on the ball against the Kilkennys of this world.
“So while I’m very optimistic and confident about the way we are going, I’m around long enough to know it does take time. There are no shortcuts and Davy knows that too.
“So I think we’ll do well and stay in the division, but this league is all about our young tyros getting the league under their belts. That will be invaluable to them come the championship. Whatever comes after that will be a bonus,” Daly added.
Dublin hurling suffered in 2012 and the fatal blow was struck by Daly’s native Clare in Cusack Park, when his home county knocked an out of sorts Dublin out of the championship for good. Is that wound still fresh?
“Look, every time you lose a match in championship, that wound stays with you. Be it Dublin, Clare or Clarecastle, you don’t forget losing games, especially close ones.
“I’m still feeling our club championship loss to Ruan back in 1988 when the club were going for three in a row!
“But that’s what makes you stronger, keeps you coming back.
“I’d agree this is a big year for us. But every year is. And it’s here now so we can get out on the pitch and get back to hurling. That’s when players are at their happiest, playing every week in games that matter. T’is new wounds we’ll be seeking out now,” he laughed.