Dublin have a second crack
After a Leinster final Cats clawing, Daly's Dubs can redeem themselves in trip to Tipp
SPEAKING to this newspaper a couple of days shy of the Leinster hurling final, Conal Keaney was eager to administer a dose of realism about the consequences of his looming Sunday.
"At half five on Sunday evening, the All-Ireland championship begins, whether you win or lose," he stressed.
"Don't get me wrong, it's a great opportunity for us to go and have a cut at Kilkenny.
"Another Leinster title would be huge for Dublin. Back-to-back would be great. And if we win, great.
"If not, it's not the end of the world. We're still on plans to reach our goals."
Quite how far Dublin were knocked by virtue of their own underperformance is hard to say just now.
But Keaney was genuine. No-one would get carried away if Dublin won.
The symbolism of beating Kilkenny and the historical significance of winning Leinster were boxes Dublin had already ticked in 2013.
All victory would mean, tangibly, was one less round towards Dublin's ultimate prize, the Liam MacCarthy Cup, even if he didn't identify it by name.
What the harsh, cold nature of the defeat - one, in all truth, Keaney couldn't have expected - has done to the group is difficult to accurately measure.
They have experienced more lows than highs in their cycle and recovered but never really in the same season.
Speaking immediately after a 12-point defeat that bore all the hallmarks of the bad old days of Dublin hurling, Anthony Daly and Johnny McCaffrey both said that already, there had been a collective resolve amongst the dressing-room to put the defeat right.
But Tipperary in Thurles is hardly the sort of fixture conducive to easy rehabilitation.
Indeed it was Tomás Brady, speaking at Dublin's pre-Leinster football final press conference last Thursday week, who sounded the first lonely optimistic note about the possible salvation of the hurlers' season.
"They don't need me or anyone to say how disappointed they would be about Sunday," he responded when asked of the standing of his former team-mates.
"But I know that there are very strong characters there in the squad. They will bounce back. You take the example of Clare last year.
"They didn't win their provincial Championship and they went on to win the All-Ireland. I have no doubt that they have plenty of hurling left this summer."
In a way, it might suit Dublin, were their malfunctions against Kilkenny exclusively systemic.
Easier, surely, to correct a team's modus operandi than coax a better performance out of around a dozen players.
Largely, Dublin spent long periods of the first half clearing long, high ball in on top of one Dublin attacker - mostly Alan McCrabbe - who had Jackie Tyrrell and JJ Delaney - players who would win All Stars for catching ball - for company.
"Yeah. When you put it like that, we played into their hands," accepted Liam Rushe, one of the few Dublin players to emergence with his line of credit in tact.
"But that wasn't the original plan. It went out the window because we executed it so poorly. We're to blame."
Neither was Rushe inclined to isolate blame to those forwards who malfunctioned.
"The lads fought and we battled our way and tried to keep in it as long as possible. We are culpable as well, it is a 15-man game.
"Looking back, there were a few aimless balls delivered in and we are the men out the field who are supposed to provide that extra run and I think the pressure was so relentless on us…
"In fairness to Kilkenny, they came out with the bit between their teeth, and even getting a backward pass to Peter Kelly was difficult at times. Just working the ball out fell apart after a while; we resorted to longer balls in our a spare man and it didn't work."
"We did pull them out of position in bits and pieces. We knew they'd keep a sweeper there."
It seems that when Dublin management did all their calculations, they concluded that to not concede a goal to Kilkenny would ensure a win.
And with neither Michael Fennelly or Richie Power on the pitch, that threat was massively weakened.
"I suppose we were anticipating another close game, a kind of point-scoring game along the lines of last year," admitted Rushe.
"Both have men back and it would be points rather than goals to decide game. Again I just go back to … when you look out the field, we nearly had two and three men over on occasions and never gave it to the free man or use the ball well. That was it."
Rushe also suggested that it may be time to bring fresh blood into the team, while McCaffrey said he and the rest of those to miscue against Kilkenny felt that they had let down those who weren't selected.
To beat Tipp in Thurles, changing tactics and dropping players may not be enough. Rather, a collective performance several levels above that which they displayed in Croke Park.
Were they to do that, Keaney's words might yet prove to be prophetic.