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Monday 15 October 2018

Forget the recent routs - Gilroy 'can't wait to play' Tipp

BIG WIN: Cian O’Sullivan in action for Dublin against Laois on Sunday
BIG WIN: Cian O’Sullivan in action for Dublin against Laois on Sunday

It wasn't long after the final bell in Portlaoise when word emerged that Tipperary would provide Dublin's quarter-final opposition in the Allianz Hurling League next weekend.

"It's another competitive outing and another opportunity to see lads. We'd be really looking forward to it, no matter who it is. Can't wait to play it actually," beamed Pat Gilroy.

Be careful what you wish for?

In fairness to Gilroy, he was doubtless still processing Dublin's 15-point dismissal of Laois and the (mostly) positive performance features contained within. Tipp were not yet on his radar; but that must now change, and rapidly.

Dublin's reward for avoiding a dreaded Division 1B relegation play-off is a last-eight date with the 2016 All-Ireland champions. Pessimists may view this more like a booby prize, given the Sky Blues' horrific recent record against the Premier.

Since Michael Ryan stepped up from selector to main man, Tipperary have faced Dublin three times - twice in the league, once in the SHC qualifiers last summer.

And the average winning margin stands at over 17 points.

After Dublin's most recent implosion, a 6-26 to 1-19 landslide last July, Ger Cunningham said he was "shell-shocked".

It was obvious that his three-year reign was over. The Corkman was on borrowed time already; but there could be no coming back from this.

In retrospect, perhaps Cunningham should have seen it coming: at the launch of the 2016 league in Thurles, Dublin had lost by 1-23 to 0-12 and it was even worse in Croke Park exactly 12 months later, a 1-24 to 1-8 rout.

Thus, the last three Dublin/Tipp collisions have delivered victories by 14, 16 and 22 points.

In that context, their 2015 league meeting in Parnell Park sounds almost perverse: at the outset of Cunningham's tenure, his team demolished Tipperary by 2-20 to 0-14.

Edge

All of which helps to explain why Dublin will stage next Sunday's quarter-final in Donnycarney, not Croker. Any perceived edge must be utilised to maximum effect against opponents who constitute a massive step-up on Laois.

To date, just two of the five league rivals faced by Dublin constitute potential All-Ireland contenders - a visibly improving Limerick and, needless to say, the holders from Galway.

They flopped at the Gaelic Grounds but showed commendable bottle (after a ropey start) to make a game of it at home to Galway, eventually losing by six.

The good news is that the form graph is pointing upward. "We were coming into the first few games on the back of a lot of injuries, and we probably hadn't got enough balance in the team," the new boss (below) explained.

"There's a bit of the team getting used to us as well, and exactly what we mean by our 'workrate' piece. And, you know, we were getting it in training but we weren't getting it in games. But that has improved. The last two games have been very close to what we're looking for."

Work alone won't suffice against a team of Tipperary's explosive attacking talents. Premier observers are quick to caution that the team remains a long way off clicking … and yet they still topped Division 1A, albeit on scoring difference as one of four teams on six points.

They have done so without Séamus Callanan, still recuperating from back surgery in January. The aim is to get their prolific talisman fit and ready for the big summer battles ahead but, in his absence, Jason Forde has amassed 3-40 (2-7 from play) in four outings.

Then again, it's not as if Forde is a stranger to the Dubs. In those three recent routs of Dublin, he has tallied 2-12 from play.

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