Shane Stapleton looks at the changes that need to be made for Dublin to challenge hurling's royalty
Sorry to play the same old tune, but it feels like we're watching re-runs, so what else is to be done?
Dublin hurling has been slowly circling the drain for three seasons now and, until a manager with fresh ideas and a unifying approach comes in, the Blue Wave will continue to wash away.
The Dublin county board put together a strategic report under this title for 2011-17, aimed at winning an All-Ireland football title every three years and a hurling equivalent every five years. The former half is papering over the cracks of the latter.
Chairman Sean Shanley went on Off The Ball on Monday evening to talk about the quagmire that capital hurling finds itself in. Players streaming out or being pushed out the door — many of whom could’ve made the side competitive against a Galway outfit in third gear this past Sunday — and a revolving door too for the backroom team.
Shanley says Dublin are not in the habit of sacking managers, which is commendable. Yet his manager has felled the axe on those under his remit. How is that best practice, or consistent with Dublin's philosophy?
Dublin hurlers take to the pitch before their clash with Galway on Sunday afternoon. Image: ©INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Under Anthony Daly, they were labelled a yo-yo team: one great season followed by a flop campaign. Ger Cunningham took over after a woeful 2014 and his record since stands at three wins from nine championship games.
So often, we hear that it’s a privilege to play for your county and that the jersey should come first. It would be unrealistic to name an estranged 15 that could all genuinely come into the current side, but you can easily name a glut of them. Paul Ryan, Danny Sutcliffe, Johnny McCaffrey, Shane Durkin, Paul and Mark Schutte, Colm Cronin to name just a few in their prime. Pace, power and experience in spades, precisely what’s missing.
Make no mistake, Dublin should be challenging for championship silverware. Now that Tipperary have shown a hole in their hull, the summer is anyone's. As it was in 2013 when a harsh red card scuppered the Dubs in an All-Ireland semi-final classic with Cork. Few games will ever match the buzz in the stadium that day. That was what Dublin hurling can be, what it should be.
It’s getting to the point where taking swipes at Cunningham is a safe bet, that it’s gratuitous violence by now. But there’s nothing to be gained in shoeing Cunningham. Of course he went in hoping to take the capital onto the next level, to win for the county and achieve his own ambitions as a coach. He should've gone at the end of last season though, or indeed the county board should’ve removed him. Seeing some of the best hurlers in the country, never mind county, feeling that there was nothing for them within this camp is a huge waste. So while the talk is of players putting the jersey first, the manager should’ve put the shirt first when it had so clearly unravelled in his hands.
Perhaps just chalk it down to experience. Sometimes the gears don’t mesh and that’s okay. Go again elsewhere rather than dragging your own good name through the mud, as has unfortunately been the case due to drawing this out. The column has consistently criticised his tenure — both in terms of players absentees and on-field tactics — and it feels a little dirty to go there again.
Dublin hurling manager, Ger Cunningham. Image: ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Yet, what can we do? Like championship structures, it’s wrong and it will remain wrong until it is changed for the betterment of everyone. Cunningham’s reign was on the rocks late last year when the players discussed his future role. They, like the county board, didn’t want to push a good man out the door as other panels have. Some left, others stayed on. The writing was on the wall though, and here’s where we are now.
Worse still, he lay too much of the blame for an 18-point league defeat to Tipp in February on the shoulders of the players: "I think they’ve got to decide if that level of performance is good enough." Where's the collective, the responsibility?
There has been little consistency off the field either. Tommy Dunne — known as an excellent coach — lasted a month or so when the new management team came in for 2015, citing a new college course and work commitments. Make of that what you will. Selectors Shay Boland and Gearoid O Riain departed before the second season, Ed Coughlan left, performance manager Caroline Currid is no longer around, nor fitness coach Ken Robinson. A miasma of smoke has been around for a long time, and instead of covering their eyes, the county board would've been better served in looking for the fire.
The qualifiers are on the horizon and it’s a disappointing state of affairs that many Dublin fans openly say they want to draw Tipp in the hope of ending the misery as soon as possible. The last time the Dubs meet a Premier side that were defending an All-Ireland was in 2011, when Daly’s side lost by four points but played even closer than that margin. That’s where they need to be.
The crucial thing now is to make the right appointment for 2018. Because 2017 has come and gone without the Blue Wave targets being met. To ensure another generation of talent doesn’t walk away, and that the current one can be salvaged, it should be Dublin GAA’s most pressing concern in the coming months.
LEAGUE - 1 win from 6
C’SHIP - 0 win from 1
Beaten heavily by Galway
League - 3 wins from 6
Championship - 1 win from 3
Beat Wexford well, lost heavily to Kilkenny, beaten by Cork in qualifiers
League - 4 wins from 7
Championship - 2 wins from 5
Drew with Galway, lost badly in replay; beat Laois and Limerick in qualifiers, beaten by Waterford
Total games: 11 wins from 28 games
C’ship total: 3 wins from 9 (against Wexford, Laois and Limerick)