Dublin hurling boss Tommy Naughton believes this Dublin side has nothing to fear in Sunday’s Allianz league final against the deposed All Ireland Champions, Kilkenny.
Naughton had overseen the beginning of a renaissance period for the small ball in the capital with a draw against the Cats in 2007. But four years on, he believes that the Dubs are now on an equal playing field with Brian Cody’s men.
“They really have stepped up this year.” Said Naughton, “Obviously it’s not going to be an easy match but they are as well prepared for a final now as they’ll ever be.”
Asked whether the black and amber inspired an innate fear, capable of beating a lesser side even before the first whistle, Naughton insisted:
“I’m not sure Dublin ever feared Kilkenny we just weren’t good enough to beat them. We never had the players or the team (to do it) whereas, hopefully now we have come along.
“I’m not sure players ever have a fear of other teams. It’s just a simple matter, if you’re not good enough then you’re not good enough.”
In 2011, Dublin are good enough. Naughton’s successor Anthony Daly has brought the blues to the top table in hurling. There is a sense around the city that the momentum of this team will trigger the imagination of Hill 16. Even more so than the footballers who have traditionally brought the hordes of supporters out in force during the warmer months.
It was perhaps an unfortunate result of the bank holiday weekend, but the crowd of just over 36,000 for last weekend’s football double header was hugely disappointing for headquarters. The sight of the Dubs in their first hurling final since 1946 may just push the sport ahead of football in popularity stakes.
However, that rise in support will have removed any lingering complacency in Kilkenny.
“The element of surprise is gone now, Dublin have a fine hurling team now, I think everyone accepts and acknowledges that.
“But that just means that they have a 50-50 chance and they’ll have to play very well to win it, but that will be the case if they’re playing any county from now on.”
Kilkenny’s strengths are much easier to identify than their weaknesses but goals are certainly their oxygen. They can tick along nicely with points flying over the black spot. But to really build the momentum they crave, and steamroll teams into submission, the cats love to get the net bulging through their rapier sharp forward line.
So Naughton feels that defence in and around the square will be the crucial factors if the league title is to stay alongside the Liffey this year.
“You have to prevent early goals and easy goals.” Instructed the Scoil Ui Chonaill man, “Kilkenny seem to have that type of forward and that killer instinct that whenever they get a sniff of a goal they always seem to get it.”
“If Dublin can cut down on the easy goals… ok, in hurling you concede goals but as long as they are not simple. And then we’ll have to match them toe for toe.”