Daly's men feast on laois
Plenty of positives in Dubs massacre of O'Moore men ahead of collision with Cats
IN three weeks' time, Dublin hurlers will go into the jungle with Kilkenny. In the most hostile of environments, they will seek to become lion tamers for the day. On Saturday evening, they warmed up for this deadly dangerous expedition by ... taming a pussy cat.
It is not Dublin's fault, of course, that Laois were so lamentably off the pace, intensity, skill quotient -- you name it, they didn't have it -- that are all basic starting points for teams who carry the pretence of competing in the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
And so, Anthony Daly's men gorged themselves for the first three-quarters of this Leinster SHC quarter-final mismatch in Tullamore. After 51 minutes, they led by 27 points -- 3-22 to 1-1. Laois hadn't added to their minuscule tally since Neil Foyle had scrambled home a 15th-minute goal.
If the Sky Blues were bothered, or if Daly had elected against withdrawing several of his best performers on the night, the final margin could have been -- who knows? Thirty points, 35, why stop there?
But Dublin did stop: they metaphorically packed their kit-bags in the final quarter, allowing Laois the minor consolation of outscoring their tormentors by six points to one in the home straight.
When it was all over (after 10 minutes, give or take) you were left to ponder several things. Firstly, how did Dublin actually lose to Laois in the Walsh Cup? Secondly, gentle run-out or otherwise, surely it must be a huge confidence-booster for Tomás Brady, Stephen Hiney and Conal Keaney to join the ranks of the post-cruciate 'comeback kids', without any apparent discomfiture?
Thirdly, will Liam Rushe start at full-forward against Kilkenny on foot of his swashbuckling brace of goals here?
Which brings us neatly to point four -- will Dublin derive much or any benefit from this 22-point cakewalk when it comes to tackling Brian Cody's All-Ireland carnivores in Portlaoise on Saturday, June 23?
Probably not much, to be honest, although it can scarcely hurt to have tossed one irksome monkey off the back -- for all the gung-ho hurling Dublin produced during the league, this was their first competitive victory of 2012.
"I've been on the end of several of those results as a player and as a manager. It's not easy take for the (Laois) boys inside," said a sympathetic Daly, before turning his thoughts to Kilkenny. "I don't need to dress it up any more than it is -- you just had to be at the league final to see the strength in depth there and to see what's available to them. We'll just go and be the best Dublin can be on the night, see where that takes us. If it could be something extraordinary, wouldn't that be magnificent?"
Magnificence wasn't required on Saturday evening, but there were still plenty of positives to be gleaned from the massacre.
We'll start with three players who, henceforth, shall never again be referred to as the 'Cruciate Three'. Daly placed Hiney in direct combat with Willie Hyland, presumably in expectation of a serious examination, but Dublin's former captain hit the ground running against Laois's off-colour talisman. "He did a great job in the first half," Daly noted.
Up front, Keaney was even more influential than his Ballyboden clubmate. He won some hard ball, scored a point in each half, and also instigated the move for Rushe's second goal.
Brady didn't see nearly as much ball in his new position of corner-back; mind you, his direct opponent, Tommy Fitzgerald, saw even less.
By our estimation, Dublin's best three players on the night were centre-back Joey Boland and inside forwards Rushe and David Treacy.
Laois full-back Darren Maher must have been the most relieved man in O'Connor Park when Rushe departed after just 39 minutes, with 2-2 from play to his name.
The play-anywhere All Star had shipped a bang to his shoulder shortly after half-time, but still managed a valedictory point with his last touch and afterwards assured that the shoulder was "fine".
Rushe revelled in his return to target-man duties, and the howitzer execution of his two goals (after eight and 24 minutes) will surely give Daly food for pre-Kilkenny thought. "You don't know where to play him really, he's so versatile. An All-Star midfielder last year and there's every possibility he'll line out there the next day," his manager mused.
Treacy departed not long after Rushe, with all of Dublin relieved that his latest injury was 'merely' a head wound requiring a couple of stitches. The Cuala man had tallied 1-2 -- his 28th-minute goal from a poacher's overhead flick -- while his fingerprints were all over at least three more points.
"There's been a lot of talk about the three boys," Daly explained, "but Treacy has been through cruciates, hamstrings, quad strains, everything you could think of.
"He's a great player and it's great to have him back. Maybe he's not quite back to the David Treacy we know, but he's on the right direction."
As for Laois's direction under their year-one boss Teddy McCarthy, they will be hurling in Division 2A next spring and here we saw why.
In its own hapless way, this performance was almost as bad as last summer's 10-goal Cork calamity.
A sceptical media listened on as McCarthy spoke of trying to pick themselves up for the qualifiers, the Leeside legend predicting that "the day will happen sometime that we will bounce back and we'll get a result".
We could be a long time waiting.