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Thursday 8 December 2016

Roche's Point: All is not lost as Dubs eye up the summer

Ger Cunningham
Ger Cunningham

WHAT'S the worst way to lose a league semi-final? By a 15-point landslide … or to a last-second point, having led by 12 at one early giddy juncture?

That's the conundrum facing the Dublin hurlers, fresh from - or rather frazzled by - Cork's grandstand victory charge in Nowlan Park.

The post-match consensus among some Corkonian observers - not Jimmy Barry-Murphy, we hasten to clarify - was that Sunday's defeat could have potentially fatal psychological repercussions for Dublin's SHC ambitions this summer.

It's a tempting argument; but that doesn't necessarily make it any more prescient. Which brings us back to that 15-point rout …

Two years ago, Anthony Daly's men were beaten out the Semple Stadium gates by Tipperary, 4-20 to 0-17. Dublin appeared in serious bother, coming off the back of one demoralising championship (in 2012) and gearing up for another.

Then they almost lost in Wexford Park - but didn't. A month later, they were Leinster champions for the first time in 52 years.

Based on form alone, Dublin have less problems to resolve now than then.

TINKERING

Ger Cunningham's (above) team has taken structural shape, aided by some pivotal positional tinkering towards the end of the league. They look better for having Peter Kelly restored to full-back and likewise for the relocation of Liam Rushe to centre-forward and Mark Schutte to full-forward.

Rushe obviously remains a target-man option, depending on match-day circumstances, but he never looked an entirely happy camper in the role.

On Sunday, though, he had a marked centre-forward influence (both creative and scoring) during Dublin's initial dominance but he also carried the fight during that frenetic last quarter when Cork were building up a head of steam.

Schutte, meanwhile, has established himself this spring as a consistently prolific font of scores - both at wing-forward but, more recently, from an edge-of-the-square starting point.

TORCHED

In back-to-back matches he has torched two opposing full-backs - Limerick's Richie McCarthy and Cork's Damien Cahalane - and tallied 2-8. But for his radar going askew in the home straight against Cork, he would have scored even more than 1-3.

Those late misses were in keeping with a collective drop in accuracy, reflected in 15 wides, six in the last quarter alone. That's a technical issue that can be remedied. And besides, there isn't much amiss with a league scoring average of over 1-23. Maybe they should have scored more than eight goals in seven outings - something to work on, clearly.

At the other end, Dublin have areas to address (including discipline in the tackle, as evidenced by Patrick Horgan's 12 pointed frees) but they aren't far off the mark either.

Paul Schutte has become a rock in the corner. Conal Keaney has been re-energised by his move back to the wing. Chris Crummey struggled on Séamus Harnedy but still put down a solid league and is well worth persisting with.

Which brings us to the last issue: mentality. Will Dublin be scarred by the surrender of another winning position, having lost a seven-point lead in Ennis last month? That is down to the dressing-room. Only they can answer that.

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