image credit: Connacht Tribune

With literally only weeks to go until the Dublin hurlers embark on the 2018 season, there’s a serious sense of excitement about the game again in the capital, something that cries back to the Anthony Daly era.

The Dubs will travel to Meath, and welcome Antrim at the beginning of January in the new year’s Bord Na Mona Walsh Cup competition, the first time fans will get a proper sense of the Pat Gilroy regime.

News of the returning Danny Sutcliffe has already buoyed the spirits of the faithful, and with the mention of Johnny McCaffrey and Paul Kelly also returning, it seems things are already beginning to take a shape that people truly expected.

And there appears to be a lot expected of Pat and his backroom team, but the early signs are indeed proving very positive, including the introduction of Galway’s Anthony Cunningham, which may very well be the ace on the hole that Dublin need to return to the league and provincial successes of 2011 and 2013 respectively.

Earlier this week, Cunningham made his first media appearance for Dublin in O’Connor Park, a venue where as Galway manager in 2015, his side demolished Dublin by a 13 point margin. It was also Anthony’s last year in charge of the Tribesmen, as player power led to his resignation that November.

Dublin this year will have three league games under their belts before welcoming Cunningham’s native county men to Parnell Park, with a lot of familiar faces in his opposition.

“There’ll be competition and we’ll be planning their downfall,” he admitted to the Herald, “they are the team to beat but, for me, definitely I had a huge part in a lot of that team. I had even at U21 level for two or three years.”

“I saw them develop and grow. Now I’m trying to say ‘Can we beat them?’ because that’s what everyone wants to do.”

Gilroy and Cunningham will have their work cut out for them in the coming months to rescue Dublin, who have been in a state of free fall for a number of years under his namesake Ger Cunningham. Marquee players either left the panel or were surplus to requirements. But as some of these names have started to return for duty, it looks as though there is still a hunger among them to see Dublin succeed in the hurling world.

With the aforementioned Sutcliffe, McCaffrey and Kelly all returning, thoughts are also focused on Cuala’s Schutte brothers for a return. But as confirmed by Pat Gilroy some time ago, any players involved in Cuala’s current All Ireland Club campaign will be left alone to concentrate on that before any talk of inter county action,

You would hope to have Mark Schutte back,” he confirmed. “Paul, you know … nobody is going to touch the fine work that they’re doing and they’ll be left on their own.”

Mark has sadly missed Cuala’s entire Leinster campaign to injury and everyone is hoping to see his return to action against Liam Mellows in the All Ireland Semi Final.

But a name still on everyone’s lips, despite his allegiance to Jim Gavin’s Senior Football panel is of course Con O’Callaghan. Con had had the most amazing year in both football and club hurling. And already in county and provincial championship appearances, he has proven to be the X Factor for Cuala, who are hoping to make it two consecutive All Ireland titles. But could to lure of success at inter county hurling be something he might consider?

“Every hurling person in the country would love to see Con O’Callaghan play Kilkenny and Wexford in Thurles or wherever. I’m no different. He is a special talent. Very humble young man with a great family background with his father Maurice. It would be a dream come true, but that’s for others to decide.”

“He will concentrate with Mattie Kenny and all the Cuala boys to win an All-Ireland back-to-back. He’ll be playing hurling up to the end of March (if they reach the club final). That’s not too far away from Leinster.”