Dubs back to drawing board as Tipp amble on
Daly has lots to ponder after a season of total deflation
IT was impossible to escape the "end of an era" feel to yesterday's tepid affair in Thurles, as Dublin limped out of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship and the inevitable question about Anthony Daly's future hung, unanswered, in the Kinnane Stand ether.
Dublin fans who had travelled south in the hope of witnessing a Leinster final backlash were instead treated to more of the toothless same, as Tipperary eased into the last-four without ever being pushed - or pushing themselves - to the limit of their potential.
Daly had been left totally exasperated by Dublin's inert performance against Kilkenny three weeks ago.
In the immediate wake of yesterday's quarter-final exit, he was adamant that there was "very little" similarity between that Leinster final no-show and this latest display, arguing that his players "battled awful hard".
Be that as it may, the game itself never remotely threatened to become the battle you would have expected from recently deposed provincial champions with a point to prove.
When Ryan O'Dwyer pointed from distance in the 15th minute, the underdogs only trailed by 0-5 to 0-4 and you wondered if this might be the kickstart for a Sky Blue resurgence. Instead, it merely stirred Tipp into action and they landed five unanswered points in the next seven minutes to lead by 0-10 to 0-4.
From that juncture on, Dublin were playing a game of catch-up that - save for the occasional shortlived flurry - always bordered on the desperate and became increasingly forlorn as the game meandered towards its conclusion.
Twice during the second quarter they reduced the deficit to four points; they were playing against the wind and this may have convinced those wearing sky blue blinkers to believe second-half redemption was at hand.
But they were never playing well enough to sustain such notions. At half-time the gap was out to seven - 0-15 to 0-8 - and this had extended to nine before Dublin's last meaningful mini-comeback yielded three unanswered points, a Paul Ryan free and a Conal Keaney brace.
But even this cameo was indicative of Dublin's recent travails where it matters most - the art of scoring.
Ryan's free was quickly followed by a 48th-minute penalty, awarded for Cathal Barrett's foul on substitute David O'Callaghan. Dublin craved the oxygen of the game's opening goal; instead Ryan's piledriver was saved on the line by defender Brendan Maher and when the rebound popped up invitingly for the in-rushing Keaney, he conspired to fire over instead of under the crossbar.
The same player atoned for that score/miss with another rapid-fire point from the right wing ... but just when the margin was reduced to six and the potential for some fourth-quarter Premier panic stations reared its head, John O'Dwyer calmed Tipp nerves with their first goal after 52 minutes.
James Woodlock, a lively midfield presence throughout, made the key incursion with a clever flick that unlocked the centre of Dublin's defence and left Seamus Callanan in the clear. He selflessly offloaded to his forward colleague, who made no mistake.
Dublin mustered a response with three of the next four points, without ever threatening to get close enough. O'Dwyer's second goal, after 63 minutes, merely iced the cake: this time it was Patrick 'Bonner' Maher bearing down on goal and while his initial shot was parried by Alan Nolan, O'Dwyer followed up clinically with an angled first-time pull.
Thus, a game that never once threatened to reach any compelling heights petered out completely. When Brian Gavin called time, the gap had extended to 13 points - even worse, statistically, than the 12-point pasting inflicted by Kilkenny.
For Tipp, meanwhile, it's onwards if not quite upwards: they have recovered from the trauma of their early Munster exit to win their next three matches by a cumulative 39 points.
Will the form displayed in the process, against Galway, Offaly and now Dublin, be sufficient to topple Cork? We very much doubt it - but they're through to the semi-finals and Eamon O'Shea has three weeks to fine-tune preparations, all the while coming in slightly under the radar. No bad place to be, and certainly far more preferable to where his Dublin counterpart now finds himself.
We have our doubts if Daly will be back, not simply because this has been such a deflating championship but also because he has been with this group for six long years. What more has he left to give? Can he re-energise a group that has flatlined so spectacularly after the early misleading portents of Wexford Park on June 14?
It must gall Daly that every uplifting year of his tenure has been followed, immediately, by a backward step.
It's patently obvious that their biggest problems are all in the attacking-third. Against Kilkenny Dublin tallied a paltry 1-9, their starting forwards managing just 1-3 from play. Yesterday wasn't much better: 0-16 was never going to come close against the combined firepower of Callanan, O'Dwyer and Lar Corbett (who faded after the beguiling early flourish of two stunning points inside four minutes) and so it proved.
This time Dublin's chosen front six were confined to 0-5 from play. Conor McCormack and David Treacy were 11th-hour changes from the Friday night team but made negligible impact, albeit the former limped off after just 25 minutes. Four of the six were substituted (Danny Sutcliffe following a heavy fall) and five of the front eight if you include Alan McCrabbe, who started at midfield.
Same old problem, although you've got to wonder how Paul Ryan has fallen so far down the pecking order that he still wasn't worth a recall after the Leinster final?
Not that Ryan sparked any massive transformation on his half-time arrival here. Truth is, Dublin look like a team that has lost its spark.
Given all he has achieved, Daly has earned the right to decide if he is the man to find it but he must also reflect on whether Dublin need a fresh voice. Lots to ponder.