Ennis slump sends sorry Dubs Down
Disastrous five minute spell after half-time consigns Blues to relegation from top flight
In a ground that's fast becoming the Dublin hurlers' very own Guantanamo Bay, Ger Cunningham reflected on a spring that, in the circumstances, panned out as many had expected.
Shorn of a battalion of Cuala players until yesterday's 3-18 to 0-19 relegation play-off loss to Clare in Ennis and immersed in a period of turbulent and self-initiated transition, Dublin looked a smart bet for the drop at the start of the year and yesterday they fulfilled an unwanted billing.
"It's disappointing. You want play in Division 1A," Cunningham admitted.
"That's where you want to be. But that's for next year. We won't be playing 1B until next year. So we've got to move on. We've got to take all the learnings from the games, reassess where we are and get ready for Galway."
The devil, as ever, was in the detail.
Yesterday's performance mirrored Dublin's spring. Indeed, it reflected their current guise.
Flourishes of excellence mixed with periods of reclusive anonymity.
A very natural reaction is to cite inexperience but in this, Cunningham wasn't convinced.
"The players that are there, whether they're young or not so young … you look at Donal Burke and some of the scores he got today.
"Maybe it wasn't some of the young fellas. You've got to look all over the pitch and see where it's at.
"We felt all along that we've got the best crop of players in Dublin representing Dublin at the moment.
"We'll work with them. But at the end of the day, you've got to perform at that level. You've got to perform for 70 minutes."
When Dublin were good yesterday, they were very, very good.
And when they were bad, they were in danger of being lapped.
Dublin led yesterday at half-time by two points, a feat made all the remarkable for the butchering of two pristine goal chances that fell to Burke and Eamonn Dillon, an almost complete wipe-out on Clare's puck-outs and seven wides, five of which were well within range.
"We could have been six or seven ahead," Cunningham reflected. "Their puck-outs were good and we struggled to cope with them."
What happened immediately after half-time will be the subject of detailed and painful inquest over the coming weeks for Cunningham and his management team.
The source of Dublin's wound wasn't immediately obvious but they took ten minutes to stop the bleeding.
At that stage, Clare had scored 1-4 and the tone of the match and the atmosphere in Cusack Park had changed entirely.
Dublin were now running up hill.
"It has happened once or twice before," Cunningham conceded, "where we put ourselves in a good position and doing all the hard work in the first half, going in at half-time two ahead.
"Then within ten minutes having a goal and five scored against us (Eamonn Dillon hitting a sole Dublin point during the Banner blitz). That's hard to come back from. It's hard when you lose momentum.
"It's something that we'll have to look at. It shouldn't be happening at this level.
"If you get a score or two against you, you baton down the hatches and work yourself back into the game.
"It just gave us a mountain to climb when those scores went in."
Dublin's zippy, measured passing in the first-half was replaced by harassed, aimless punting.
Clare cleaned up.
Where Dublin were wasteful, Clare took three of four goal chances.
Aaron Shanagher's towering fetch and blasted first half finish probably kept Clare from a collective panic attack.
John Conlon's cut inside and low, rifled 40th minute goal must have had Cunningham's pining for precisely that style of forward.
Thereafter, Cunningham pushed Liam Rushe to centre-forward in a bid to make something - anything - stick up there but the move also served to leave a Liam Rushe-shaped hole in the centre of Dublin's defence.
It was precisely this aperture through which Tony Kelly waltzed and fired off Clare's third and game-killing goal from 30 metres on the hour mark.
Cunningham's ability now to craft a more resilient and clinical team before their Leinster SHC opener against Galway on May 28 in O'Connor Park, Tullamore may not only define Dublin's season but pass judgement on his entire tenure.
Discernible progress is now a necessity.
"You've got to move on quickly," he urged. "Like anything, it is what it is. We are where we are.
"The League is now over for us. We've got to look forward to Tullamore in May. That's our focus."