Brian Cody had sampled most of life’s buffet by the time Kilkenny played their first game of the Leinster SHC round robin in 2018 but he’d have been forgiven for wondering what exactly awaited him behind the grey stone walls of Parnell Park that evening.
indful of their capacity to occasionally get it together for a season, Cody had generally treated Dublin with respectful caution.
But this wasn’t a Dublin that he or anyone else had any proper sense of. It wasn’t Ger Cunningham’s Dublin or Anthony Daly’s.
It was Pat Gilroy’s Dublin hurling team and what exactly that looked like, even at the moment Kilkenny’s team bus lurched through the gates of Parnell Park, was still mostly guesswork.
“We were seen as a kind of a football management team going in but Anthony (Cunningham) gave that a bit of credibility,” reflected Mickey Whelan later that year.
On July 22, 2017, Ger Cunningham’s tenure as Dublin manager ended.
On August 15, betting was suspended with one bookmaker on Gilroy being his successor, his odds tumbling from 6/1 to 3/1 down to evens in the space of 24 hours before the book was closed.
The following day, the Dublin County Board chairman expressed bemusement at the development but that didn’t stop the whir of rumours.
Gilroy was eventually appointed on October 11.
By then, whether on a solo run or a hunch, he’d already started to move some pieces around the board.
According to Conal Keaney last year, Gilroy rang him “out of the blue”. . .“months before it was announced he was taking over”.
Keaney was 35. He hadn’t hurled at inter-county level in two years and had left Gilroy’s football squad at the end of 2010. But Gilroy’s straight-talking chimed.
“He had it all planned and he wanted me to be part of it. Sure why wouldn’t you go for that?”
Danny Sutcliffe, who left Cunningham’s divisive setup as he approached his peak, had already been summoned back from America by then too.
Hence, two important blocks were stacked before Gilroy had even gotten the job.
Meanwhile, the reaction to Gilroy’s appointment ranged from bemusement all the way to intrigue.
When it was put to Gilroy that the surprise it generated stemmed from him not having played hurling at any serious level, he had joked: “There’s plenty of people who’d tell you I didn’t play football at any serious level either . . .”
The league was a disaster.
It began with a 10-point defeat to Offaly in Croke Park and featured assorted atrocities in Limerick (12 points) and Parnell Park, to Galway (six).
“We had to elevate the fitness levels,” Whelan later revealed. “That had to be done at the expense of the league. We knew we had to have them at their best to meet Kilkenny in the first round of the championship.”
What happened that evening in Parnell Park ranks along with Dublin hurling’s great heaving pile of what-might-have-beens.
Dublin led from the third minute to the 75th and at one stage were ahead by 3-15 to 0-19.
And yet it finished with a cliché: Kilkenny fighting and scrapping and eventually overwhelming the seeming inevitability of defeat.
A late Liam Blanchfield goal after what seemed to most people in Parnell Park like a push on Paddy Smyth deprived Dublin just a second championship win over Kilkenny since 1943.
Gilroy had been a grain of sand away from a stunning start to inter-county hurling manager-dom.
Another narrow loss in Wexford the following week cut Dublin’s summer painfully short and by September, Gilroy himself was gone; the demands of professional life rendering his work with the hurlers unsustainable.
“It just wasn’t possible,” Whelan explained. “He’s creating a lot of employment for people in South Africa.
“And there is a lot of other things now beyond hurling and football.”
For Kilkenny, an uncertain journey to Donnycarney but an early summer scare survived. An ambush avoided.
For Dublin, their surprise manager and their paltry historical record against esteemed guests in Parnell Park that day, it still rankles as one that got away.