THE Dublin hurlers must have choked on their corn flakes when reading the comments of Galway boss John McIntyre earlier this month.
"Dublin are the team of the league," declared McIntyre.
No arguments so far, they're top of aforementioned Allianz League, after all!
"They are overwhelming favourites to beat Galway. I don't even know is there any point in even going up there, to be honest," added McIntyre, fresh from seeing his own side overturn a nine-point deficit to scalp those hapless minnows from Kilkenny.
Sadly we must now report the Galway boss as a major injury doubt for tomorrow's Donnycarney duel, following surgery to extricate a tongue lodged dangerously deep in his cheek.
"People are talking about Dublin as potential All-Ireland champions this year ... they beat us in the Walsh Cup semi-final, they were too physical for us, they were too strong. It's going to be a massive challenge," McIntyre concluded.
Clearly we've been mixing in the wrong company because, until we read this last quote, we hadn't seen anyone talk up the Dubs as genuine contenders for Liam MacCarthy.
And yet, the very fact that Galway's wily commander is showering his next opponents in such lavish praise tells you plenty about the giant strides made by Dublin -- during the last half-decade, during the two-and-a-bit seasons under Anthony Daly, and during the last three months especially.
Put it this way. If Dublin hurling was still stuck in a rut, McIntyre would scarcely feel compelled to indulge in such complimentary pre-match platitudes -- or "mind games", as the currently injured Alan McCrabbe put it more bluntly in an Evening Herald interview yesterday.
It's a moot point whether all the pre-match 'debate' will have any bearing on tomorrow's intriguing collision of near-equals at the Division One summit. Just as debatable is the result itself.
For Dublin, the glass-half-empty reality is that this league gets a whole lot tougher from here on in.
They have collected a laudable seven points from eight thus far, but you could make the point that the only truly significant result -- scalping Tipperary -- came at the perfect time for Dublin: early in the campaign at a time when Tipp were injury-depleted, lacking in comparative stamina training and maybe, just maybe, still basking in their previous historic visit to Croke Park.
From now on, however, Dublin could easily be eclipsed in the race for a final place with a searching examination against Galway followed by a more daunting Croker clash against Kilkenny and finally the long trek to Cork.
Now for the glass-half-full perspective. Sure, it gets tougher in the home straight but -- of the three remaining games -- tomorrow might well represent Dublin's best chance of victory. Here are just a few reasons why:
(1) RECENT PARNELL HISTORY: Dublin beat Galway here in the 2007 league, hammered them at the same venue in '09, and also prevailed with 14 men when the two sides met in a pre-league Walsh Cup semi-final. Ergo, they won't fear the reigning league champions.
(2) SELECTION BOOSTS: While the inspirational qualities of Stephen Hiney will be missed in the long-term, Dublin's short-term prospects have been boosted by the return of Conal Keaney (from 'flu) and Peter Kelly's suspension reprieve, albeit the latter is still an injury doubt -- with Ruairí Trainor, Oisín Gough and Simon Lambert in the hunt for the corner-back berth should Kelly be ruled out.
Contrast this with Galway's ongoing selection problems, especially up front.
They have survived this spring without the little-and-large brilliance of Damien Hayes and Joe Canning, partly because of Iarla Tannian -- but the man who plundered 2-2 in that Kilkenny comeback is at a Stateside wedding this weekend.
(3) DUBLIN NEED IT MORE: What Galway hurling needs is not another league title but some long overdue summer silver.
Dublin can't afford to wait that long; that extra motivation might well push them over the line tomorrow.
And if not? Then a certain manager will have the last laugh on the motorway back to Galway!
ODDS: Dublin 8/5, Draw 10/1, Galway 4/7