Dubs crave their Cuala cavalry
Clare 0-20 Dublin 1-15
It has been a tough eight days for Ger Cunningham and his talented but callow Sky Blue troops.
Two flirtations with victory - against Waterford, now Clare. Two 'what if?' defeats that leave them teetering on a relegation tightrope.
Now for the even harder part: a last-day shootout with Kilkenny in Parnell Park. Some of Brian Cody's most decorated Cats looked reborn in their thrilling Saturday night stalemate with Tipperary. Victory for them on Sunday week should be enough to safeguard top-flight status; Dublin must win to avoid that dreaded relegation play-off ... and even that may not be enough.
Question is, might Dublin hopes of a great escape be bolstered by an influx of Cuala stickmen, just nine days after their All-Ireland club final against Ballyea this Friday? On the evidence of yesterday's brave but ultimately futile effort in Cusack Park, Cunningham could do with their big-match experience - and the free-taking savvy of David Treacy.
Club finalists are usually given some post-Paddy's Day leeway; but Dublin's manager didn't rule out a rapid return. "We've two weeks," he said, "and it gives us the time now to figure out what's the best approach. I suppose those lads are focussing on an All-Ireland final and, come next weekend, we'll have a chat to them and see where they are."
This was Dublin's third defeat in four, and there were echoes of Waterford eight days earlier in their failure to protect a five-point lead.
Yet, as Cunningham argued, they needed to be further ahead than 1-10 to 0-8 at the break, given the wind they would face thereafter.
Ryan O'Dwyer, previously well marshalled by Cian Dillon, escaped his clutches for a 19th minute goal that gave Dublin a two-point lead and the momentum to build it.
In truth, however, with the sniping exception of Niall McMorrow with 0-3 from the '40', they weren't exactly firing - from play or frees.
Donal Burke squandered one of his three deadball attempts, from less than 50 metres, and last year's minor was replaced before the break. Enter Chris Bennett, whose 0-3 from placed balls carried the asterisk of two poor wides and a more difficult, undercooked effort.
"I don't think David Reidy missed any frees," Cunningham pointed out. "Free-taking is hugely important - when you get a chance you must convert it. That's been disappointing, the last two days."
And yet he spied second half encouragement in Dublin's "great character" even as Clare's towering half-back line started to turn the screw. A three-point Dublin salvo briefly restored a five-point cushion, only for Clare to hit the next five.
In a nip-and-tuck finale, Aaron Cunningham and the reintroduced Ian Galvin delivered the scores that would seal a two-point win.
"We're disappointed to be where we are," the Dublin manager admitted, "but we've got to face Kilkenny next ... they still have some great players on their team, so I certainly wasn't surprised, they really took the game to Tipperary last night. We've a mighty challenge ahead us."
SCORERS - CLARE: D Reidy 0-8 (7f), I Galvin 0-3, J Shanahan, S Morey 0-2 each, D Fitzgerald, P Collins, C McInerney, J McCarthy, A Cunningham 0-1 each. DUBLIN: N McMorrow, C Bennett (2f, 1 '65') 0-3 each, R O'Dwyer 1-0, D Burke (2f), B Quinn, E Dillon 0-2 each, L Rushe, F Mac Gib, C Crummey 0-1 each.
CLARE: P Kelly, D McInerney, C Dillon, S Morey; B Bugler, C Cleary, D Fitzgerald; J Shanahan, D Reidy; C Malone, P Collins, J Conlon; A Shanagher, P Duggan, I Galvin. Subs: C McInerney for Galvin (26), J McCarthy for Shanahan (50), A Cunningham for Duggan (56), Galvin for Collins (62).
DUBLIN: C Dooley; J Madden, S Barrett, E O'Donnell; C Mac Gabhann, L Rushe, C Crummey; B Quinn, D Fox; F Mac Gib, N McMorrow, R McBride; E Dillon, R O'Dwyer, D Burke. Subs: C Bennett for Burke (32), C O'Sullivan for Mac Gib (50), C Boland for O'Sullivan (64), F Ó Riain Broin for Madden (inj 68).
WIDES: Clare 14 (4+10); Dublin 9 (6+3). YELLOW CARDS: 0. REF: A Kelly (Galway). ATT: 4,370. MAN OF THE MATCH: David Reidy (Clare).