Chris Crummey was first called up to the Dublin panel during the eye of a storm. Kilkenny had just pulled the boys in blue asunder during the 2012 Leinster semi-final — on a humbling score line of 2-21 to 0-9. It had come like a bolt from the blue to the boys wearing that same colour. A year earlier, Crummey had captained a minor side that beat the Cats in a provincial decider, just a couple of months after the Dubs overcame Brian Cody’s men in a league final. The future looked as though it was set up for the capital.
The trouble came when Anthony Daly’s side got to the championship, where Kilkenny were seasoned campaigners and well-versed in dishing out punishment. It would take a little longer to crack the summer code, and so the 2012 Leinster run ended in a terrible 18-point hiding. When the subsequent qualifiers draw was made, the manager from Clarecastle would have wanted to avoid one team, and one team only. That was the very side Dublin were picked to play away from home: his native Clare.
“I think I was called up for the last three weeks of the summer,” says Crummey. “It was maybe a week after Kilkenny had hammered us and we ended up getting Clare, and I remember how riled up Daly was for it. It was a shock to meet him and see him that riled up.”
“I wasn’t on the 26 that day but the lads walked from the hotel, up through the town of Ennis to the stadium, and they told me it was some experience.” Daly gave the Lucan Sarsfields man his debut in the Walsh Cup in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2015 under Ger Cunningham that the defender was thrown into the lion’s den of competitive action.
For a man who is now captain and first name on the team sheet, it was a long road to get there. Growing up, the Dubs hadn’t yet established themselves as a competitive hurling county at the top end of the game, so there weren’t many iconic influences at his front door.
“You wouldn’t see Dublin hurling games on TV,” says Crummey. “I was a big fan of the Waterford team during the early noughties and Ken McGrath was my favourite. One of my first times at Croke Park was in 2005 when the minors won the Leinster title (their first provincial win since 1983) when we beat Wexford and Johnny McCaffrey, who is from my club, was the captain.”
“He was a big influence of mine, and so too is Peter Kelly, another Lucan man who also hurled for Dublin for years. I was a minor when Dublin won the league in 2011, and I had played Tony Forristal when I was 12 or 13.”
“I think before that, I would have been watching the football team, with the likes of Alan Brogan and Conal Keaney. I always played both codes growing up and I was on development squads for the football, with the likes of Ciaran Kilkenny and Brian Fenton. Around 15 or 16, I stuck more with the hurling and I think we were better at it in the club too, and I enjoyed it more.”
“Getting my debut against Tipp in 2015 during the league was unbelievable, it had been a long time coming — two full years in there and you’d start questioning yourself. The fact that we won well, and it was a great atmosphere at home added to it.”
Crummey dabbled in rugby at Newbridge College where he went to school and plays golf socially where, as he says, “I play off nine but I’d be a mixed bag — I could hit birdies but then throw in a few double bogeys!”
“When I was growing up, we had a holiday home down in Rosslare and we went down there every summer. I ended up playing the links course there a lot, and then I played the Hermitage course which is my favourite.”
Given the quality of his former underage teammates in football, and the success they have had under Jim Gavin, is it a case of what might have been?
“No, I wasn’t good enough at football, and you couldn’t keep up playing both. I always preferred watching and playing hurling. That kind of thing is down to an individual — some people prefer a sport because of family and their influence. Sometimes it’s down to tradition — most dual players in Tipp go hurling, and it’s probably the same in Dublin for football.”
There were times when the hurlers seemed to be making real ground. In 2013, Daly led them to the Leinster final after a semi-final replay win over Kilkenny. It was a breakthrough win of seismic proportions down at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise — and sent the Dubs into a decider against Galway.
“That final in 2013 was unreal,” says Crummey, when asked of his proudest days with the team.”
“Just winning Leinster and the few days after that were just amazing. Of course, beating Galway in the Leinster championship this year, there were incredible scenes at Parnell Park, just a great day. I think, as a team, we’re still trying to get back up to where we were in 2013.”
That final six years ago is Dublin’s only Leinster title win since 1961 and, though he was part of it, Crummey wants to do it again on the field. The manner in which they outfought Galway in the final stages of their do-or-die clash at the end of the 2019 provincial campaign suggested there was more to come this season.
When the crowd encircled the players on the field in Donnycarney, the intimacy between the die-hard supporters and the players was clear. The nearly men who had come close in many games during 2018 under Pat Gilroy had now delivered under Mattie Kenny a year later.
Yet just a few weeks later, the gathering momentum would dissipate as Laois shocked them at O’Moore Park. Eddie Brennan’s charges had won the Joe McDonagh Cup and qualified for the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final on the back of it but were expected to be seen off without too much bother.
The O’Moore men had other ideas, and were full value for the win, and a place in the quarter-final outright against Tipp – which the Premier won without too much fuss.
“We’re hoping to kick on and keep progressing on what we have done for the past two years,” says Crummey, “Pat brought in a culture and Mattie has been bringing that along since he took over.”
“We’ve had some great victories over the years but the challenge for us has been that consistency and kicking on. We have a good age profile now, which might not have been the case after 2013 when we might not have nudged along the transition of players quickly enough.
“The hurling championship is so open at the moment and any team could win it. We have done well on occasions, but the ambition has to be winning Leinster and an All-Ireland.”
“The Laois loss, that was a bit down to experience and maybe not managing the situation well enough. We need to be more conscious of when to get scores and when to kill the game. Laois are a strong team and they’ll be in Leinster next year. I don’t think we got anywhere near our performance indicators and you need to hit those to get results.”