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Saturday 21 October 2017

Dubs must respond to Leinster final flop

Dublin manager Anthony Daly. Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Kilkenny, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.
Dublin manager Anthony Daly. Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Kilkenny, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.

UP in the RTÉ crow's nest, the language was stark. While Ger Loughnane and Tomás Mulcahy had come to praise Kilkenny for their return to the Leinster summit - hail Cody, the three-year famine is over! - most of their post-match analysis was focussed on the losers.

Basically, Loughnane concluded, Dublin had "flopped" ... and when this happens your energy drains, your touch is terrible, you suddenly look like a Division Two team.

Mulcahy maintained that, tactically, Dublin had got it all wrong but he agreed with his fellow analyst that "they did fold, which is very, very surprising."

Presumably Anthony Daly was more surprised than anyone. It's not that Dublin were favourites to retain their Leinster crown - they bookies had Kilkenny 4/9 - but newspaper verdicts were split and even Loughnane gave them his tentative vote beforehand.

This observer fancied Kilkenny if only because of the invaluable learning curve of their two-game duel with Galway. Clearly they were less settled than Dublin - five changes after the Galway deadlock, then another three for the Dubs - but they were scoring more freely than last summer while the harsh lesson of Tullamore two weeks ago had switched the managerial focus firmly back on defence.

None of this was reason to suspect a Dublin no-show. Now for the hard part: proving themselves all over again by negotiating the quarter-final watershed and getting back to the All-Ireland semi-final stage for the third time in four seasons. They have three weeks go relaunch the revolution; here's what Dalo & Co must do ...

1 Reaffirm Newton's third law of motion, namely that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The mercurial Dubs have been doing this all season long: they flop in Galway and bounce back against All-Ireland champions Clare; they suffer score starvation against 14 Waterford men but hit a thrilling 1-22 riposte against Kilkenny; they surrender an early six-point lead in Tipperary but bounce back to win their relegation play-of in Waterford.

Now the pattern has turned on its head for the championship: composed and resolute in Wexford, ragged in Croker. On that basis, a Thurles tour de force beckons before they crash out at the semis. If only hurling were that simple.

2 Re-examine their forward tactics. The stats don't lie: whatever was the plan to unhinge the veteran trio in Kilkenny's defence, it didn't work. The team scored a paltry 1-9. The six starting forwards tallied 1-7 but only 1-3 from play. Three of the six didn't score from play, and there wasn't any scoring support from midfield or half-back either.

As Loughnane maintained afterwards, playing two inside forwards "handed the initiative to Kilkenny from the off". That said, it might have helped if the delivery inside was less haphazard and gave those outnumbered attackers a fighting chance. Our tuppence-worth? Restore Alan McCrabbe to his most effective role as half-forward 'floater', recall Paul Ryan to the inside line, and limit the positional rotation within games.

3 Ensure that your main players are primed to deliver on July 27. This, arguably, is the key to redemption. Yesterday morning's qualifier draw increases the likelihood that Dublin will be facing a revitalised heavyweight at the quarter-final stage, now that Tipperary and the winners of the Wexford/Clare replay have been kept apart.

In that scenario, Daly must hope that the next three weeks of training restore match sharpness to Danny Sutcliffe's legs and wrists; that Conal Keaney rediscovers the touch that mysteriously went AWOL on Sunday; that Peter Kelly relocates his absent All Star form.

In truth, Dublin's well of talent doesn't run so deep that they can afford so many of their chosen 15 off the pace on the same day. They don't have a King Henry waiting in the wings.

4 Disprove the doubters who will cite Sunday as further proof of Dublin's recurring condition of "second season syndrome", whereby every ground-breaking campaign (reaching the Leinster final in 2009, winning the league in 2011, conquering Leinster in 2013) is followed by a jarring step backwards.

They can't let it end that way in Thurles.

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