dublin must use fortress parnell: mcINTYRE
Donnycarney has brought out best in Blues' stickmen and they must deliver on Sunday
DUBLIN hurlers know what's expected on Sunday in Parnell Park (2.0) - a positive result against Galway, progress to the Allianz League quarter-finals and a case of looking forward with optimism, not nervously into their wing-mirrors.
The ominous alternative? A relegation play-off trip to Nowlan Park, there to face a shaken and stirred Kilkenny, scenting revenge and with their big guns from Ballyhale back in tandem.
"That wouldn't be an appetising prospect," suggests former Galway manager John McIntyre, "and it would be a disappointing conclusion to a campaign that started off in such whirlwind fashion against Tipperary and Kilkenny."
Ah yes - remember February? Two thumping victories over last year's All-Ireland finalists, by margins of 12 points and five, had some pundits dizzy with thoughts of September.
Subsequent results - an 11-point trimming by Cork in Croke Park, then surrendering a healthy lead against 14 Claremen last weekend - have firmly quashed any premature giddiness.
Thanks to the vagaries of the head-to-head system, it all means the following ahead of Sunday's crucial (for one side) encounter: Dublin and Galway each have four points, the visitors have an inferior scoring difference … and yet, of the two, only the hosts could end up in a relegation play-off.
In a nutshell, that will be Dublin's fate if Ger Cunningham's men lose and Clare continue their mini-resurgence with victory in Nowlan Park; in that scenario, chastened men in Sky Blue will enter a survive-or-die battle with the Cats.
"I'd expect a very forceful and committed display from Dublin on Sunday. Because there's no excuse for not doing so," says McIntyre.
"This is a big test of where they are. This is a game with an edge to it. They know the consequences of losing. So, really, you'd expect that Dublin would be seriously fired up."
The Tipperary native has been bemused by Dublin's recent oscillations.
"After their first two games people were saying 'My God, Dublin are going to be really serious contenders for everything this year.' But the wheels have come off a little bit, especially against Cork," he surmises.
"It was a very loose match, and they were on the rack with Cork's movement and pace. I think the reality check might have been no harm.
"But then they went down to Ennis and Clare were reduced to 14 men and it was the type of game where you would have expected a bit of a backlash … and it didn't really come.
"In one way, Ger Cunningham will probably welcome the fact that the hype has subsided after their flying start. But, deep down, he might be a bit concerned."
During his own spell as Galway manager, McIntyre endured a couple of grim days against Dublin (a 12-point league tanking in 2009 and, more painful still, a limp Leinster semi-final defeat in 2011). In between, however, he enjoyed back-to-back league wins … and the same trend has been repeated during the Anthony Cunningham era.
Galway have recorded three emphatic league victories (twice in 2012, including a relegation play-off replay, and again last year) as well as winning this year's Walsh Cup decider in Croke Park … but when it came to the 2013 Leinster final, a rampant Dublin ran out 12-point winners.
As a tantalising backdrop to Sunday's meeting, the same counties will renew Leinster SHC rivalry on May 31 in Croke Park.
"Both teams will be aware of it," McIntyre surmises.
"It's funny, though - sometimes in the context of a bigger game coming down the tracks against the same team, it might suit you to lose the less important game because it gives you a motivational edge later on in the summer.
"Given that the stakes are much higher for Dublin on Sunday, they will be disappointed if they can't get a result - especially at a venue where they have become very, very difficult to beat. So there's more pressure on Dublin to get a result.
"Now, nothing beats winning; it gives you momentum; and the league quarter-finals are on the following weekend.
"So Galway won't be going up to Dublin for the fresh air, as Anthony Cunningham said earlier in the week.
"They'll probably experiment - somewhat - but they'll still be going up to get the job done."
However, will Dublin's greater need tip the balance?
"Ah ... just about," McIntyre reckons, not sounding fully convinced.
"I think Parnell Park is always worth three or four scores to Dublin, and they've turned it into a bit of a fortress.
"But the wheels have come off the wagon the past fortnight, and I would imagine that they would have targetted this fixture in the context of what's after happening in their last two outings."