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Dublin manager Anthony Daly during the Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Dublin v Limerick, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture: Pat Murphy/Sportsfile.

Dublin manager Anthony Daly during the Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Dublin v Limerick, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture: Pat Murphy/Sportsfile.

SPORTSFILE

Dublin manager Anthony Daly during the Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Dublin v Limerick, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture: Pat Murphy/Sportsfile.

FOR a losing manager, post-match angst can take on different forms. You can be driven to the point of despair by a simply dismal performance ...

OR you can be left utterly frustrated by a failure to press home initial dominance through squandermania and bad option-taking, with inevitably bad consequences.

Anthony Daly knows all about the latter after watching his team succumb to Limerick by 1-21 to 1-15 at Croke Park on Saturday night.

Six points? It's sounds almost routine for the Shannonsiders; in truth, it was anything but.

Yet whereas John Allen's sprightly young forwards blossomed spectacularly in the last half-hour, their Dublin counterparts were by then already cursing their failure to either engineer or convert a sackful of presentable goal chances.

Paul Ryan was probably culprit-in-chief, and he then turned fall-guy in another guise with a straight red card after 51 minutes for an off-the-ball strike on Tom Condon spotted by an eagle-eyed umpire.

Dublin were hanging onto a two-point cushion at the time; ironically Ryan had scored a sublime touchline point only two minutes earlier. However, the numerically challenged hosts were outscored 1-8 to 0-3 in the home straight as Man of the Match Declan Hannon (who tallied 0-9 including six frees), Graeme Mulcahy (1-3) and Kevin Downes (0-4) fired a succession of arrows through Sky Blue hearts.

The net result is that Limerick, who had laboured to early round victories over Antrim and Carlow, are now firmly in pole position to claim a top-two final place in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League.

 

MARGIN

And Dublin? They hadn't set the world alight either in beating Offaly and Antrim, and there is now no margin for error in Wexford Park next Sunday. No wonder Daly has described it as a "huge challenge", adding: "There are two big games left now, Wexford and Carlow, and I think if we can win both of them we've a great chance of being in the final ... we just said it in there now, it's about picking up the heads for Tuesday night."

This week's DVD analysis won't be a complete horror movie; in a way, that merely adds to the frustration.

"I thought we did a lot of good hurling. God almighty, you could nearly say after 20 minutes that every man was winning his position," Daly remarked. "And yet the scoreboard wasn't reflecting that."

The cold stats confirm that Dublin, despite devouring the Limerick puckout and creating a multitude of green flag openings, led by just 0-4 to 0-1 at the time.

By our reckoning, they could have had four or even five goals inside those 20 minutes ... but Conal Keaney shot too early (and wildly) instead of driving through a gap; Ryan failed to offload in time with the Limerick defence stretched; Conor McCormack's angled effort fizzed just wide of the far post; David O'Callaghan was denied by the legs of Nickie Quaid; then Ryan turned his man to create a two-on-one but shot for glory himself, ridiculously early and straight at full-back Richie McCarthy.

Thus, starved of the sliotar and gasping for air, Limerick were still hanging in.

They even squandered a rare goal chance of their own (via Shane Dowling) before falling six points adrift.

In hindsight, the seven minutes before half-time were the winning and losing of this game. With Hannon and Downes springing to life, Limerick hit five unanswered points to trail by just 0-8 to 0-7.

In the same period, Ryan's night was summed up by a fluffed attempt to flick or control a defence-splitting delivery from Joey Boland (Dublin's standout performer) when the occasion demanded a more orthodox catch.

Afterwards, Daly took solace from a first-half effort much improved on what came before against Offaly and Antrim. "But you have to put it on the board," he lamented. "Eight points for the first half, (with) the amount of ball we won and the amount of possessions lads had ..."

Initially at least, Dublin revealed a more clinical third-quarter streak, tallying 1-3 inside five minutes, McCormack claiming the 39th-minute goal despite McCarthy's valiant attempt at a goal-line clearance.

But, having led by five, they suddenly started leaking at the back to a resurgent Limerick. The elusive Mulcahy increasingly left Ruairi Trainor in his slipstream while Hannon's influence, as half-forward ball winner, score-taker and long-range freetaker, grew ever more pronounced.

 

Decisive

Other factors conspired in tilting the balance. Paul Schutte's latest bout of cramp robbed Dublin of their impressive full-back. Ryan's red was arguably decisive. "At the risk of sounding like a well-known football manager, I didn't see it," protested 'Arsene' Daly. "But it wouldn't be like Paul Ryan to do something like that, without being in some way provoked!"

Then came the hammer-blow of Limerick's 55th-minute goal: engineered by David Breen's turf-devouring burst and looping handpass, bravely caught by Mulcahy (just as he was clattered by 'keeper Alan Nolan) and finished with aplomb.

Fourteen Dubs hung in there and would even have equalised if Nolan's 20m free had found the Hill net instead of skewing high off his hurl. But, despite some brave resistance from Danny Sutcliffe and a fourth point from the prolific Boland, Limerick's Allen was the manager left smiling at the finish.

"Kevin Downes has threatened at training but hasn't brought it onto the field of play, so I was particularly delighted for him," said Allen.

"Graeme (Mulcahy), as we saw last year, is a lethal finisher ... and Declan Hannon has an much hurling as anybody in the country really."

Dublin's misfiring forwards, take note.


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