Dublin beat (yep, pronounced ‘bet’, BBC-accented Mrs d) Kilkenny yesterday in the final of the Walsh Cup. Much effort will be expended to minimise the significance of this victory, not least in Dublin where no one will want to be getting their hopes up too high. But I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that in a few years time we will look back on this win as the tipping point from which, looking back from that imaginary point in the future, we will be able to say ‘so that was when Dublin went from being whipping boys to winners of the National League / Leinster title / . . . ” (okay, let’s not get carried away with the last part of that series).
As supporting evidence for this theory, I present Waterford’s win in the South East League, what is now the Waterford Crystal Cup, in 1998. Hindsight is a marvellous thing, but even given it’s lowly status in the hurling hierarchy it felt significant at the time. It was standing room only in Walsh Park as the muintir iománaíocht of Waterford sensed something was afoot. Presumably Cork would be trying to win the game too, and when Waterford eventually staggered over the finishing line in dramatic fashion, it felt great to be able to put even this small one over the Auld Enemy. It wasn’t just the win in itself. We had had a decent run in senior hurling in 1997, beating Galway in the League quarter-final and putting in a good showing against Limerick in the Championship. At long last, it seemed as if we were building on the achievements of the Minors and Under-21’s in the early part of the decade. And it looked certain there would be more to come.
The same sentiments seem applicable to Dublin thirteen years on. There can be no firmer feeling-in-yer-waters than Shane Ryan and Conal Keaney choosing to spurn the big ball game in favour of hurling. It’s not as if Dublin are less likely to win the Sam Maguire, but they clearly are sensing great things from the current Dublin setup. As for performances up to now, Leinster Minor championship wins in 2005 and 2007 have been supplemented with Under-21 wins in 2007 and 2010. Senior triumphs on which to hang their collective hat have proven harder to come by – they were none-too-impressive in squeaking past Wexford in last year’s Leinster championship and the loss to Antrim was sickening – which makes their recent League win over Tipperary and now the Walsh Cup look all the more important.
Dublin really need to do something spectacular in the next few years. I’m skeptical about the suggestion of culchie Jonahs who fret that Dublin’s gargantuan population base would make them unstoppable should they ever get their act together. The infrastructure simply doesn’t exist in Dublin GAA to turn them into a rival to other dual counties like Cork and Galway. Besides, that’s a bridge we should cross when we get to it. For now, a successful Dublin would enliven a hurling championship that is in serious need of enlivening. And it would just be nice to see the efforts of Dublin Gaels bearing fruit. Oliver J Flanagan – it’s hard to get away from Blueshirts in the week that’s in it – once said that “there is no better Catholic than an English Catholic”, by which he meant it was easy to be a Catholic in Ireland, hard to be one in England (one wonders whether he’d ever been to Liverpool). If a time comes when I’m hoping Dublin crash and burn in every game, it’ll be a good time for the GAA.