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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Schutte to thrill Dubs Taunt treaty

Cruise control for the Blues but a word of caution - Limerick 'played like a 1B side'

Mark Schutte, Dublin, in action against Wayne McNamara, Limerick
Mark Schutte, Dublin, in action against Wayne McNamara, Limerick

GER CUNNINGHAM'S wish list as he entered Croke Park on Saturday night ...

Croker hex banished. Game-time for some recently absent senior stalwarts. The extension of Dublin's Allianz Hurling League campaign deep into April. A fistful of welcome selection headaches for the semi-final ... check, check, check and check again.

Speaking of which, could someone check if Limerick turned up at all? Or was it some lingering green ghost from the Paddy's Day parade?

That is the only caveat about this convincing yet far-too-easy 1-25 to 0-16 victory. In the same way that Cork's point-scoring frenzy against the Dubs, earlier in March, had to be judged in the context of shockingly loose defensive resistance, here it was a case of saluting Dublin's continued upward curve after a mid-league lull, while wondering aloud: "But would they have the same time and space to flourish against a team that meant business?"

Good question. Presumably Cork - purveyors of the aforementioned reality check - will provide us with a more definitive answer about the current rude health of Dublin hurling on April 19.

In the meantime, Cunningham can luxuriate in a multitude of positives, chief among them the audacity of Mark Schutte in torching former All Star full-back Richie McCarthy in a bravura performance that yielded 1-5, three assists (via converted David Treacy frees) and a bloodied cheek that forced his late departure.

Typical of Dublin's night, Cian Boland entered as a temporary replacement and pointed, within seconds.

It wasn't merely their economy of execution (1-17 from play, and just seven wides) that caught the eye. Cian O'Callaghan dominated his corner while their half-backs obliterated too-often-AWOL opponents, with Chris Crummey a revelation at centre-back and Conal Keaney hurling up a first half storm alongside. Likewise they eclipsed Limerick's much-touted midfield, Niall McMorrow reaffirming the old adage about the best goods coming in small parcels.

All told, this romp was a timely reminder that Dublin (without a win at HQ since the 2013 Leinster final) can actually revel in its open spaces.

"Guys have got to get comfortable playing here. We've a good record in Parnell - there's no reason why we shouldn't have a good record in Croke Park," Cunningham reasoned.

"You'd have to be encouraged by the performance," the Corkman added. "We looked comfortable on the ball; our support play was good; and things we've been working on in training, it's good to see it being transferred onto the pitch. Again, maybe the fact that we were playing in 1A ... Limerick were probably off the pace a bit."

Opposite number TJ Ryan didn't view the divisional gulf as a valid excuse and yet admitted: "We played like a 1B side, that's the bottom line."

"Being beaten by 12 points, of course it's worrying," he added.

"We targetted it. We wanted to win it. We were disappointed after not qualifying from Division 1B and today is another disappointment. I don't have my finger to put on any one thing. We put a strong team out."

WEAKER

Only on paper; and they finished weaker, too, after first half injuries to Donal O'Grady (ankle) and Séamus Hickey (hamstring). One of their subs, Cian Lynch, showed hints of promise but also endured the pain of being trod on by a back-pedalling Keaney after the goalbound minor graduate fell to ground.

"I'll let ye guys have a look at it and ye can decide ... have a look at it," reiterated Ryan, making clear his own displeasure without verbalising it. Looking back on the tape, though, you could just as easily argue that Keaney's boot had nowhere else to land.

As for the outcome? No argument at all.

ALLIANZ NHL QUARTER-FINAL

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