The 2018 senior hurling championship almost featured its first shock on Sunday as Pat Gilroy’s Dublin side ran Kilkenny to the pin of their collars. By the looks of the performance, Dublin selector Anthony Cunningham played a big part in the tactical set-up.
Pat Gilroy is one of the most well-respected figures in Dublin GAA. In 2011, the former Dublin footballer guided the county to their first All-Ireland football title in 16 years. This winter he returned to the inter-county management scene, surprisingly switching to the small ball.
While Gilroy is clearly an excellent leader of men, his lack of inter-county hurling experience was an obvious talking point. However, there was a selector appointed by Gilroy with more than enough experience to make up for this, Galway native Anthony Cunningham.
Cunningham who was famously ousted by the Galway senior hurlers in the winter of 2015, had overseen the Tribesmen’s most competitive period in 20 years. With that said, the decision to evict Cunningham seemed strange.
When one looks back at Cunningham’s Galway reign, the standout game is the 2012 Leinster final. Entering the game as huge underdogs, Galway blew the reigning champions out of the water and to be crowned Leinster champions.
The similarities between that game and yesterday’s Leinster championship game are clear as day. The difference for Dublin hurling supporters was the end result.
However, upon comparing the 2012 Galway side with the current Dublin outfit and they bare a number of similarities.
The first obvious similarity is that both sides hurled start-to-finish with a sweeper, a set-up that has time and again caused issues for Brian Cody.
In 2012 Galway went with Johnny Coen, who hoovered up a world of ball in the 2012 Leinster Final. The Dubs yesterday positioned the hugely influential Seán Moran as their extra defender and Moran excelled in the role.
The benefit of the sweeper is not only extra cover for the full-back line, but it allows the centre back to man-mark the centre forward. This was an essential move, particularly yesterday, Eoghan O’ Donnell completely nullified TJ Reid from open play.
In 2012, it seemed the sweeper caught Kilkenny completely off-guard, it took the Cats 19 minutes to register their first score that day. It didn’t take Cody’s side as long yesterday, but their first point from play took a whopping 26 minutes.
Liam Rushe’s physicality caused severe damage from the edge of the square, playing a hand in all three Dublin goals. This was similar to Joe Canning in 2012 who bagged goals in both Leinster and All-Ireland finals, though he did roam around for that Galway side.
Jonathan Glynn also played in the above mentioned role from the bench in 2012 and likewise raised a green flag in the 2012 All-Ireland final replay.
Conal Keaney’s physicality at centre-forward was massively missed as his misfortunate injury during the game had a massive bearing on the result. This resembles the role played by the robust Niall Burke who, in 2012, completely nullified the opposition number six.
Dublin faded massively in the final quarter yesterday, and this period was the losing of the game. Galway suffered similar lapses in 2012 with Kilkenny dominating the final quarter in all three clashes.
The reason for these dips in the game’s most crucial period is easily explained; both sides brought an increased physical challenge to Kilkenny, however with just five forwards up front, it’s inevitable that they will tire.
In the 2012 Leinster Final, Galway had built up enough of an early lead that the dip in form became irrelevant. In the same year’s All-Ireland final, the Tribesmen held on thanks to a late Joe Canning free. In the replay, down to 14 men, Galway were blown away late on.
Dublin clearly suffered from fatigue late on. Keaney’s loss was significant, but missed chances were the major issue. Had Dublin converted a portion of their scoreable missed chances, the game may have been out of reach for Kilkenny.
The men from the capital will undoubtedly be disappointed with the result, but the performance points to many positives. Gilroy’s charges now need to put that defeat behind them and put their focus towards Wexford this weekend.