Déise litmus test of Blues' revival
Something has got to give as Dublin's roller coaster collides with consistency of a rock-solid Waterford
Such is the incorrigible make-up of this Dublin hurling team that anything could happen in tomorrow's Semple Stadium opener.
They could explode from the traps with a free-scoring fluency that will leave us wondering why we ever doubted them in the first place. Think of their opening blitzkrieg against Cork in the league semi-final back in April, now transport that onto the championship stage: Eureka!
The alternative, appalling vista? Dublin reveal their pedestrian alter ego - slow to the ball, slovenly in possession - and before we know it, this All-Ireland quarter-final has veered almost beyond reach.
Option 3: Dublin are both of the above on the one day.
All of this may sound unfair on a team that has battled back from provincial Armageddon in Tullamore to reach the last-six in the race for Liam MacCarthy; yet the truth remains that Ger Cunningham's Dublin are still a riddle wrapped inside an enigma.
They were shocking for the first 27 minutes against Limerick, when only the latter's sky high wide count kept the deficit to eight instead of soaring into double-digits. That left the window ajar; to Dublin's credit they had the character to break back in.
Paul Ryan's laser-like shooting from play and frees was the catalyst. As the gap narrowed, confidence and intensity rose in tandem. Dotsy O'Callaghan came off the bench to show his renowned cuteness, while poaching that all-important goal. Liam Rushe soared into the contest at centre-back.
But you've also got to factor in Limerick's unravelling momentum, especially up front.
Here's the crux: in the same white-knuckle environment, would you expect Waterford to lose their way as Limerick did a fortnight ago?
Our suspicion has to be no.
You might say this is precisely what happened the Déise during the concluding quarter of their Munster final, when they were outscored 0-8 to 0-4 and never really threatened the goal they craved.
True, up to a point. But they were playing Tipperary, not a Limerick team that has flattered to deceive for almost the entirety of this season.
When Dublin and Waterford last collided, in a relegation play-off 16 months ago, the visitors emerged from Walsh Park with their top-tier status intact.
But a multitude has happened in the interim. Both teams endured difficult championships yet, at the start of spring, Dublin looked the likelier bet for silverware. Instead, while they oscillated between brilliance and banality, Waterford bedded down their defensive system and surprised everyone with an unbeaten run to the Division One summit.
Since then, traits that served them so well in the league have remained - defending in numbers, tackling with intensity, breaking at speed and never afraid to shoot (even if it means missing) from distance.
Even in the absence of Pauric Mahony and with a sparsely manned attack, they still managed to take Cork for 3-19. Slow starts, though, have been a curious feature: they fell four behind Cork and Tipp before they got motoring.
Dublin have endured a similar ailment against Galway and Limerick and will hope that, this time, they can spring from the traps. Ideally, they would love Ryan to find his range early (because when he does, his confidence and strike rate invariably soar) ... but if that doesn't happen, his forward colleagues must take up the slack.
Our worry for Dublin, though, is that Ryan & Co won't enjoy remotely the same space against a heavily-armoured Waterford defence where Noel Connors has excelled in a variety of man-marking briefs, ably supported by the masterful sweeping of Tadhg de Búrca.
In summary, Dublin at their mercurial best could win but Waterford's stellar consistency is the safer bet.
All-Ireland SHC Q-Final
Dublin V Waterford
(Thurles, Tomorrow 2.0, Live RTÉ2)
Boylesports odds: Dublin 12/5, Draw 10/1, Waterford 2/5