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Micheál Donoghue can build his Dublin hurling dream team around Kilmacud Crokes

Dublin manager Micheál Donoghue. Photo by: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Conor McKeonIndependent.ie

Had Micheál Donoghue listened too closely to the Dublin hurling sages on his arrival in the capital, he might have hopped straight back into the car, spun it 180 degrees, and pointed for Clarinbridge.

A bad season will do that to any county. But the gloom around Dublin has as much to do with immediate future as the recent past.

Where once Dublin hurling was illuminated with bright horizons, now, suddenly, it’s hard to make out where the next good team will come from or who has the makings of a new Danny Sutcliffe or Eoghan O’Donnell.

When three of the county’s prime performers of the last decade dusted down their passports and decided to head away, unavailable for 2023 at the very least, it was clear that this wouldn’t be the smoothest of starts for Donoghue.

But hope lives. And like much of what is strongest in Dublin GAA currently, it comes wrapped in the purple and gold of Kilmacud Crokes.

“If I had my way I’d lock the door and I wouldn’t let Micheál Donoghue near them,” said Crokes manager Kieran Dowling on Sunday, half-joking when asked for an opinion on which of his players possess the requisite minerals to hurl for Dublin.

“Being honest, I don’t want anybody in with Dublin because it gives us a headache in terms of trying to put out teams.

“But look, for them it is the ultimate. You want to play for your county and to challenge yourself.”

Clearly, Crokes are the obvious source of interest for the new Dublin management now, possessing a reservoir of potential, if nothing more certain than that.

In winning back-to-back county senior titles for the first time this year, Crokes did it with a 100pc locally-sourced team, the age profile of which suggests the next seven or eight years will be a particularly high-yield period in Kilmacud.

Of the 20 players used by Crokes on Sunday against Clough/Ballacolla, half came from the three minor teams that won Dublin championships in 2018, ’19 and ’20.

Brian Sheehy, Fionn Ó Ceallaigh, Eddie Gibbons, Mark Grogan and Tom Stakelum were all part of the 2018 group that beat Ballyboden St Enda’s in the final.

Sheehy was there again a year later along with Cian Ó Cathasaigh, Davy Crowe, Dara Purcell and Brian Scanlon when they repeated the trick against the same opposition. Crowe, Purcell and Scanlon were young enough to be there again on the 2020 team, who finished off the three-in-a-row in August 2021, due to pandemic-associated delays.

Also on that team was Brian Hayes.

On Sunday, Hayes – younger brother of Dublin full-forward Ronan – started in midfield and caught the eye. He provided a brilliant, jet-heeled assist for Crokes’ second goal and generally, displayed the sort of pace around the middle not exactly commonplace in Dublin club hurling just now.

“Brian was at the back end of our ‘B’ team last year,” explained Dowling. “He came to me at the start of the year and said, ‘can I do the gym programme?’ I said, ‘absolutely, no problem’.

“I’d say if you were to talk to Micheál Donoghue and Francis Forde, he’s the type of player they’re probably looking at, somebody who can keep developing over the next year or two.”

Nothing is ever certain in hurling and arguably even less so in Dublin.

There’s a theory that the great southside hurling revolution will stop short of elevating the senior county side due to the demographics involved.

When Mattie Kenny took over as Dublin manager in late 2018, he was entitled to expect a greater contribution over the following four years from the Cuala team he took to back-to-back All-Ireland titles.

The flow of talent from Crokes themselves into the Dublin set-up hasn’t always been as strong as some of Donoghue’s predecessors might have expected.

Against that, Donoghue can be as certain as any new inter-county manager that, at the very least, he will be given the time and freedom to see out his three-year term.

If no obvious stars-in-waiting exist, Crokes at least offer potential. Talent that good coaching can maximise and a sharp set-up should retain.

“There’s a few there that definitely put their hands up,” agreed Fergal Whitely, one of the Crokes players already certain to be in Donoghue’s squad next year.

“I’d love to think that a few of them will be there or thereabouts in the next few years at least.”

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