Dublin to save year in thurles tussle
Chastising provincial losses have dropped expectation in both camps
IT hasn't been the smoothest of first terms for Ger Cunningham but equally, there must exist an acceptance now that for all the upheaval and the two big, hope-crushing defeats against Cork in the League semi-final and Galway in Leinster, that a win here against a similarly bedraggled Limerick team puts them back exactly where he might have hoped when it all started.
From there ... who knows?
But Cunningham has in some ways been fortunate in his brief reign, too, and the pairing of his team with Limerick is just one instance.
Dublin might easily have drawn Cork or Clare in the last round and examined the minerals running through this Dublin team but Laois allowed Cunningham's side to heal and feel their way back to relevance.
Michael Carton leaving the squad this week may be a lot of things but a good thing, it certainly aint.
In a team often accused of lacking leaders, he was certainly one. Albeit a quietly effective one.
Chris Crummey and Shane Barrett are both good Dublin prospects and perhaps Cunningham feels their blooding, and that of Cian Boland, in Championship hurling were inevitable for the short-term future of this team and to demonstrate to the established players that performances of the Galway variety would not be tolerated.
But against a big Munster team in Thurles, you'd be almost certain of Carton's calm influence.
This though, is the road Cunningham has chosen.
There was, it must be said, much more good in the Laois performance than bad and with a few tweaks, Dublin could arrive in Thurles with a team good enough to win on Munster soil and set up an All-Ireland quarter-final with the losers of tomorrow's Munster final.
Firstly - and most alarmingly - they won't be afforded the luxury of shooting 23 wides and still winning by 10 points, as they were in O'Moore Park
Indeed, were they offered much more than 23 scoring chances in total by TJ Ryan's men, it would come as something of a mild surprise.
Secondly, should they fumble, fluster and flitter away possession, as they did for a dark spell in the first half last Saturday, Limerick will make Dublin suffer a great deal more than 'Cheddar' Plunkett's men managed to do.
'Cha' Dwyer, Zane Keenan and Tommy Fitzgerald are good forwards. But not nearly so prolific as Cian Lynch, Declan Hannon, Graeme Mulcahy and Shane Dowling.
But overall, the use of short puckouts worked against a team always likely to concede them by dropping two denoted forwards into their own half.
Paul Schutte, in particular, was hugely measured in possession and while Liam Rushe's discussed merits as a centre-back usually begin with his ability under a high ball, so too is his use of the ball calm and positive when his team are attempting to construct a move from the back up.
Johnny McCaffrey and Ryan O'Dwyer got through a sight of work in midfield too and Cunningham's only real dilemma here is whether O'Dwyer's presence is greater required along his half-forward line or not.
Eamonn Dillon, meanwhile, was a revelation at centre-forward and exactly the sort of direct, pacey attacker Dublin need right now.
He scored four points and should have had a goal but his influence was far greater.
Dublin pushed up on Laois when they had possession at the back and Dillon covers so much ground so quickly, he managed to intercept a couple of balls.
And if any team go man-on-man against Dublin and Dillon beats his marker, the likelihood of Dublin creating a goal chance is enormous.
And then there's Conal Keaney.
He was arguably more effective than Mark Schutte but either way, the pair of them possess the sort of physical, direct threat no defence wants to deal with.
Limerick, meanwhile, have plenty of problems of their own and rumours of unrest have leaked since they were so cruelly exposed by Tipperary.
For a start, they didn't look to have the puff to keep up with Tipperary, but perhaps that was a psychological offshoot of being so easily carved up so often.
Thus, Declan Hannon and Seamus Hickey were benched for their wholly unconvincing win over Westmeath during which Lynch and Dowling were subbed due to poor performance.
Right now, you'd be half mad or seriously deluded to announce either of these teams as at right favourites or expected anything certain from either of them.
Dublin are coming off a little turmoil this week but a better win last weekend.
Limerick were probably the third best team in Ireland just last summer and possess arguably the find of this season. Take your pick.
ODDS: Dublin 13/10, Draw 9/1, Limerick 4/5
all-ireland shc qualifier: dublin v limerick, THURLES, TODAY, 5.0 (LIVE rTé2)
The pair of them possess the sort of physical, direct threat no defence wants to deal with.