herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Frank Roche

Canning's form and fitness a big X-Factor ... but Dublin can still Schutte for the semis

WILL the real Galway please stand up ... how often have you read that plaintive query? Here's an alternative version to mull over on the road to Tullamore: will the real Dublin please reveal themselves?

Those hard-to-fathom Tribesmen aren't the only hurling entity with a predilection for infuriating mood swings, not just from game to game but frequently within the confines of 70 minutes.

Dublin stand guilty as charged, too. It has been a feature at different stages of the Anthony Daly era, when a tendency to follow good year with bad was the primary theme ... but even within seasons they could be brilliant one game and brutal the next.

OVERRUN

Under the stewardship of Ger Cunningham, a generally positive league campaign still contained many steep oscillations of form, crowned by that roller coaster semi-final against Cork when Dublin were sublime for the opening quarter, pretty impressive for the next two ... only to be overrun in the home straight.

Lesson learned?

Well, on the evidence of last Sunday, not entirely.

Truth is, neither team came close to reaching its apex of potential.

It was always intriguing, being so close, but the intensity normally associated with championship hurling between two evenly matched rivals was marked absent.

In the end, neither team deserved to win it; yet both deserved a second chance.

Replays can be notoriously difficult to second-guess but we do anticipate an upping of the physical ante in the slightly more claustrophobic environs of O'Connor Park.

For both Cunninghams, Ger and Anthony, there was plenty to work on this week even as tired bodies recuperated.

First up Dublin. In truth, they were blessed to be just a point adrift at half-time given (a) some of the leakage stemming from their half-back line and (b) the coughing up of cheap full-back turnovers leading to goal chances for Jason Flynn and Joe Canning.

Neither was converted, much to the relief of Peter Kelly, who departed with hamstring trouble soon after.

predicament

Kelly's predicament is an obvious worry for a Dublin management that had already lost Paul Schutte to a late injury cry-off.

Full-backs of their quality aren't easily replaced, even though Michael Carton actually steadied the ship on his introduction six days ago.

The other puzzle for Dublin's Rebel commander to resolve is a failure to go for the kill having wrested the third-quarter initiative. Twice in the league (against Clare and Cork) they have let clear winning positions slip; this wasn't on the same scale but it was an opportunity lost.

Still, in the big picture vista, stalemate could prove a blessing. An extra game will definitely help the winners, in the same way that those Wexford and Kilkenny replays were crucial to Dublin's Leinster breakthrough in 2013.

TALISMAN

The flip side is that Galway will expect more from their talisman, on the assumption that Canning's hand injury proves less of a hindrance. Anthony of the Cunninghams also now realises that Johnny Coen, for all his qualities, is not the right defensive fit for Mark Schutte, whose status as Dublin's standout performer of 2015 remains firmly intact.

Picking a winner is akin to guessing whether the 'real Galway' or 'real Dublin' shows up. On the basis that the latter have more room to improve, we're sticking with them.

ODDS: Dublin evens, Draw 8/1, Galway 11/10

VERDICT: Dublin

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