Waterford hand out a lesson
Waterford 2-19 Dublin 1-17 Allianz HL Division 1A
Ger Cunningham found an unlikely ally in Derek McGrath on Saturday night.
"There's a two-fold benefit to what Ger has done," the Waterford boss maintained after his team put the squeeze on Cunningham's to hammer out a five-point win in Croke Park, Waterford's first there since 2008.
"There's a real parallel to what we did ourselves two years ago and what Dublin are doing now," he went on, and given the pattern of the match, it was easy to make out a team at the start of a process and another at a more advanced, productive stage.
"It indirectly takes the pressure off you from a media point of view. Dublin are perceived to be preparing minus the Cuala players and to be going the youth route, which disguises the fact they have some serious players."
Having navigated that road, McGrath added, there were associated conflicts, though the Waterford manager was adamant that Cunningham's reboot of the Dublin senior hurling team was "the right thing," regardless of risk.
"The risk is possible impatience of supporters or clubs. There's also the risk of a cohort of people being negative no matter what you're doing.
"It's a massive risk," he noted.
"I remember going to a game against Laois in Dungarvan after we had drawn against Limerick and saying to myself, 'if we lose this game the tide will become so strong on the outside of our group that it will nearly result in you stepping away from'.
"I'd know Ger personally as a coach, so it's not a personal affirmation of him, it's a man doing his thing because he knows it's the right thing. It has to be respected."
Saturday was one of those evenings when you could clearly see Dublin's inexperience working against them.
They absorbed an unlucky goal, a Stephen Bennett shot after a Pauric Mahony free rebounded off an upright, to go five up at one stage in the first half but found Waterford's defenders in brilliant form thereafter.
The breaks from which Eamon Dillon in particular thrived in that first half evaporated completely thereafter.
"We probably should have been more ahead at half-time," Cunningham reckoned.
"I think that was probably the crucial…and certainly the five or ten minutes after half-time."
Waterford's second goal, another Stephen Bennett effort, this time into an empty net after Conor Dooley came for a ball and miscontrolled, seemed to wind Dublin.
"That was a big blow," Cunningham noted.
"But that happens in a game. You've got to accept that and move on and take that challenge. These things happen."
If the Cork victory in Páirc Uí Rinn was a long leap forward for Cunningham's project, this was at least a disappointed shuffle backwards.
"You're not going to win every game and you're not going to lose every game," he added.
"But we want to be consistent and give ourselves a chance to win every game. That we're in there every time."
Dublin didn't quite manage to do that on Saturday night.
They played in spurts, slick ones at that, yet lacked the wherewithal to figure Waterford out once their defenders, most notably Shane Fives and Noel Connors, got on top.
Up front, they also displayed an economy with possession that Dublin couldn't match.
"We came up on Friday and we actually did a lot of talking about Croke Park and not winning a game here since 2008," McGrath revealed.
"We almost talked ourselves into not playing well at the start and we spoke about that at half-time.
"We said, not that our worst nightmare had unfolded, but that we'd talked too much about the game as a group, and then turned up and were completely flat in the first half. "
The result puts Dublin back in the relegation conversation and embarking on a trip to Ennis next Sunday, a place where they have experienced a couple of traumatising defeats over the past couple of visits.
Of more long-term consequence however, is the effect defeats such as Saturday's could be having on a team that hasn't yet figured out its own identity.
"Once Waterford got ahead, they pull people back behind the ball. They're good at sucking the life out you," Cunningham noted, sounding almost envious.
"They're a very experienced team. It's all part of learnings that our guys will have to take from the game.
"This is our third game. We've had two downs and one up, so we've got to rebound again. They've got to take the learnings from it.
"You're playing one of the two three or four teams in the country who have been there or thereabouts, who are an experienced team now.
"They know how to win games," the Dublin manager concluded, "and maybe that's what we've got to learn."
SCORERS - Waterford: P Mahony 0-12 (10f), Stephen Bennett 2-2, A Gleeson, K Moran, M Shanahan 0-1 each. Dublin: D Burke 1-7 (0-7f), E Dillon 0-4, R McBride, R O'Dwyer 0-2 each, C Crummey, N McMorrow 0-1 each.
WATERFORD: I O'Regan; N Connors, B Coughlan, S Fives; C Gleeson, T DeBurca, S Daniels; J Barron, K Moran; Shane Bennett, M Walsh, P Mahony; A Gleeson, Stephen Bennett, P Curran. Subs: M Shanahan for Curran (49), M Kearney for Barron (50), B O'Halloran for Shane Bennett (61), J Dillon for Stephen Bennett (67), D Lyons for C Gleeson (68)
DUBLIN: C Dooley; J Madden, E O'Donnell, S Barrett; B Quinn, L Rushe, C Crummey; N McMorrow, C Conway; E Conroy, E Dillon, R McBride; F McGibb, R O'Dwyer, D Burke. Subs: C Boland for Conway (47), C MacGabhann for Madden (55), C Bennett for Conroy (61), C O'Sullivan for Quinn (69), F Ó Riain Broin (73)
ATTENDANCE: 34, 758
MAN OF THE MATCH: Shane Fives