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Christy O’Connor: Dublin managing heavy transition – again 



Ten years ago, just before Anthony Daly stepped down after Dublin were beaten in the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final, Daly admitted that staying on would have required another three-year term to begin that rebuilding process. 

Managing that transition was always going to be difficult for whoever came after him but that process was subsequently contaminated by personality clashes and some hard and big decisions by Ger Cunningham.

Some of those players dropped by Cunningham in his second season, or who left, were close to the end of their careers. They may no longer have been starters but some could still have been pillars in that rebuilding process, especially when the heaviest demolition work begun in year three of Cunningham’s term.

A young squad already thin on physicality and hardened experience was left even more vulnerable, with the absence of nine Cuala players during their 2017 All-Ireland club winning campaign.

When Pat Gilroy took over in 2018, his philosophy was heavily focussed on finding and developing new players, but Gilroy was also aware of the need to get some of the departed back. Conal Keaney, Alan Nolan, Joey Boland, Peter Kelly, Shane Durkin, Paul Ryan, Danny Sutcliffe and Johnny McCaffrey all subsequently returned.

When Gilroy departed after just one year, Mattie Kenny took over for four seasons, where he too tried to get that balance right between introducing new players and keeping the team competitive. There was a consistency of selection but they still couldn’t make that next step. Two huge victories against Galway in 2019 and 2021 were highlights but Dublin only reached one Leinster final and one All-Ireland quarter-final during those four seasons.

Ultimately for Dublin to come again as a force, another generation of talented and ambitious players needed to arrive. Dublin have produced  excellent young hurlers in recent years but in nowhere near the same volume that arrived around 15 years ago, and which were subsequently promoted, nurtured and developed by Daly.

A host of those emerging players have stepped up but the first two seasons of the Micheál Donoghue reign again underlined the constant flux that has largely defined Dublin hurling since Daly left; there has been a 50% change in personnel since Donoghue took over.

None of that is Donoghue’s fault. Not long after he took over in the autumn of 2022, he found out that a raft of the squad weren’t going to be around for the 2023 season, including three of their main players – Chris Crummey, Liam Rushe and Cian O’Callaghan.

After radical reconstruction last year, Donoghue now has to plan without another cohort; Cian Boland, Chris O’Leary, Andy Dunphy, Cillian Costello, AJ Murphy, Aidan Mellett and Kevin Burke. Getting the balance of the team right has been harder with so many injuries to key players; Eoghan O’Donnell, Donal Burke, Alex Considine, Paddy Doyle, Ronan Hayes and Mark Grogan.

Dublin have experimented with O’Donnell up front – he was the top scorer from play in the club championship last year with Whitehall Colmcille – but he may not see any game time in this league. Chris Crummey’s return – he came back from Australia last week – at least gives Donoghue more licence to lock down the team’s spine.

Crummey won’t feature for a while yet but he’ll need a few games for management to decide whether they’ll use him as a defender or forward. Donal Burke is also a few weeks away.

In the short-term, Donoghue and his management have enough to be going on. Tipperary were impressive last week but Dublin were nowhere near aggressive enough in the first quarter when allowing Tipp convert 13 of 14 shots. 

Dublin ramped up the heat in the third quarter, establishing a platform of dominance on the Tipp puckout, but collapsed after Jake Morris’ goal early in the fourth quarter. Their biggest failing though, was the huge volume of scores they coughed up from unforced errors, a coarse first touch and rash decision-making. They were murdered on turnovers, with Tipp mining 1-17 from that source.

Addressing those issues will be Donoghue’s starting point. Getting everyone back is the priority as Dublin undergo another heavy period of transition. Again.

Fitzgerald looking to even up his record against Lohan 

In the aftermath of Waterford’s championship defeat to Clare last May, Davy Fitzgerald referred to a number of challenges he and his squad had to deal with going forward. Waterford did two weeks later when beating Tipperary but that defeat to Clare had already confirmed their exit from the championship.

It was a low-point for Waterford and huge let-down for Fitzgerald, not just because his side were beaten by 12 points – it was also his third time to come up short in the championship against a Clare team managed by Brian Lohan.

At this stage, all the old stories about past tensions and grievances inevitably come to the surface of the conversation when these two meet. The passing of time has gradually shaved the edge off the subject, but the matter has become less topical anyway because Lohan has enjoyed such dominance in the managerial battle; in five league and championship games (four with Wexford and one with Waterford), Lohan’s side has won four. Fitzgerald’s only win was the 2021 league game in Ennis.

After last year’s whipping, Waterford have plenty of motivation now to set the record straight. They will also want to win in the newly revamped Walsh Park. 

Wexford’s young guns seek retribution 

When the final whistle sounded in last year’s Leinster U20 final and the Offaly supporters flooded the pitch in ecstasy, the Wexford players collapsed all around them. After beating Kilkenny in the semi-final, Wexford looked in a great position early in the second half when Offaly’s Charlie Mitchell was sent off. The teams drew level on five occasions but two late Offaly points edged them over the line.

It felt like the end for Wexford, as a big underage defeat often does for the players involved, but it was only the beginning for some of them. Rossiter subsequently took over the senior team, immediately brought a raft of those U20s with him.

Three who featured that night played last week against Kilkenny – Conor Foley, Corey Byrne Dunbar and Cian Byrne, while last year’s U20 captain, Darragh Carley, was on the bench. Foley was outstanding at full-back, scoring 0-3 from play, Byrne Dunbar was impressive at midfield, while Byrne came off the bench to score the equalising goal.

Darragh Egan did blood some of those young players last year, while others were part of a development squad, but Rossiter will aim to integrate more during his term. He’ll have to, considering the rising age-profile of Wexford’s best players.

Against Offaly on Saturday in Wexford Park, Wexford will target a first league win under Rossiter. And the younger players will want revenge for that U20 loss; four of that Offaly side, Sam Bourke, Dan Bourke, Charlie Mitchel and Cathal King played against Waterford last week.

Whatever happens now, a lot of those U20 players from last year will see more of each other over the next decade.

Tralee schools have it all to themselves 

In the history of the Corn Uí Mhuirí (Munster Colleges football), Kerry colleges have never had it so good, winning 15 of the last 16 titles. Kerry schools have always dominated the competition, having won 51 or the last 91 titles, but this is still an era of unprecedented dominance for one county in the competition; Kerry schools won nine in a row in the 1940s, but Kerry will win a 12th in succession on Saturday as Tralee CBS and Mercy Mouthawk face off in Austin Stack Park.

This is the 10th time two Kerry schools are meeting in the final in the last 17 years. It’s Mercy Mounthawk’s first appearance but this final is even more unique again given the pairing – it’s the first time that two schools from the same town are meeting at this stage of the competition.

There were four occasions over the last 65 years where two schools from Cork city met in the final, but only one of those deciders saw the two schools situated as closely together as the two Tralee schools are now – the 1988 final between North Monastery and Coláiste Chríost Rí.

Thirty-six years on, with two schools from the same town situated only 2.2 miles from each other, this is the most unique Corn Uí Mhurí final ever.

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