Dublin’s Paul Ryan. Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
FRANK ROCHE – 18 FEBRUARY 2014 02:30 AM
ON paper, Dublin’s Allianz Hurling League programme looked relatively problematic even before last Sunday. The kings of Leinster had three games on the road while their only two home fixtures came against the last two All-Ireland champions.
Now, in the ashen-faced aftermath of Pearse Stadium, Dublin diehards are liable to spy booby traps at every step.
Clare next Sunday? Gulp. Waterford away, followed by Kilkenny at home (double gulp) and finishing with a trip to Tipp on March 23.
After that, they’ll be straight into knockout action a week later. Presuming Dublin recover from their 0-28 to 1-12 no-show against Galway, that could well be a Division One quarter-final… but if Sunday’s flat-footed baptism of fire is anything to go by, a relegation play-off is surely a safer bet?
Just as well, then, that Anthony Daly remains an optimist at heart. When asked if he feared a repeat of 2012 (when Dublin’s league campaign opened with another poor defeat in Galway and they never got back on track all season), he countered: “No I wouldn’t think like that. If I did, I wouldn’t get out of bed at all in the morning.”
Different times, he argued, and the Clareman has worked sufficient wonders during his lengthy capital stay to be granted the time and patience to right the myriad wrongs of last weekend.
After all, weren’t Dublin assailed by similar doubts after last year’s league semi-final rout by Tipperary? Didn’t the army of sceptics multiply after their fumbling Leinster SHC stalemate in Wexford Park? But management and players hung tough and worked it out; you know the history-making outcome.
Trawling further back into the Dalo era, Dublin opened their 2010 league campaign with a crushing 4-13 to 0-12 defeat in Waterford. A week later, the Parnell Park backlash was both blistering and beautiful: they hammered Tipperary (who would end the year as All-Ireland champions) by 1-21 to 1-12.
Suffice to say, a week isn’t merely a long time in politics. So, while no one is being foolish enough to proclaim those great Galway enigmas as champions-elect on the strength of one point-scoring exhibition, no one should dismiss Dublin before we’ve even seen how they respond with their backs to the wall and the cock-a-hoop champions from Clare coming to town.
That said, last Sunday was chastening for all manner of hard-to-fathom reasons. In body they had 12 of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final line-up on the Salthill pitch; in mind they appeared somewhere else, with only a few exceptions.
They were lacking in everything: speed of movement or thought; first touch (and the second and third); teamwork, tenacity, leadership and, at the most basic level, bloody-minded pride.
Dublin’s all-enveloping malaise was evident in the multiple traumas endured by their All Star defensive spine of Peter Kelly and Liam Rushe; in their non-existent midfield; the near-total obliteration of their half-forwards under Gary Maguire’s puckouts; the bald statistic that after the opening 90 seconds, they failed to register a point from play for the rest of the first half.
Suffice to say, when your skipper (Johnny McCaffrey) and premier marksman (Paul Ryan, pictured) are hauled ashore even before half-time, you know something is seriously amiss.
Everyone – players and management – will have to engage in some forensic soul-searching. Daly maintained afterwards that preparation had been good and they hadn’t over-trained in the lead-up, so why did they appear so stuck to the ground? If attitude, for whatever reason, was infected by complacency, there is no room for excuses next Sunday. Otherwise, Dublin’s recent propensity for “one year good” followed by “one year bad” will start to resemble a vicious cycle.