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Galwegian is left to mull over plenty of conundrums

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LONG WAIT: Dublin manager Mattie Kenny will be gunning for revenge against Laois

LONG WAIT: Dublin manager Mattie Kenny will be gunning for revenge against Laois

LONG WAIT: Dublin manager Mattie Kenny will be gunning for revenge against Laois

Even Mattie Kenny, that most meticulous of planners, cannot have foreseen that he and his Dublin hurlers would be waiting this long to right the glaring wrongs of 2019.

Revenge is a dish best served cold? Make that permafrozen. When Dublin take on Laois at a floodlit venue yet to be confirmed on Saturday, October 24, they will have been waiting over 15-and-a-half months for this opportunity.

Waiting and stewing.

What happened at O'Moore Park, in last year's preliminary quarter-final, ranks up there with the most jaw-dropping hurling shocks of the millennium. Even more so in the context of the heroics produced by Dublin against Galway just three weeks previously.

"That was an unacceptable performance from our group. And we know that. The problem is, it's too f***ing late now," Kenny lamented in the red-raw aftermath of that 1-22 to 0-23 calamity.

"Laois put up great fight there. They had great hunger. Dublin weren't at the required level today. And we've nobody to blame for that only ourselves."

LEAGUE LESSONS

What happened on that sunny July Sunday must seem like two seasons ago, not one. The pandemic has torpedoed the time-honoured tempo of an inter-county season; and whatever Allianz League lessons were absorbed by Kenny have lost a considerable chunk of relevance.

Of the team that started against Laois last season, Cuala pair Darragh O'Connell and Seán Treacy did not return for that spring campaign. The captain's armband, previously worn by Chris Crummey, passed to Danny Sutcliffe.

Dublin's form graph was patchy, to put it mildly; and ominous if you're the kind who discerns deep meaning in every fixture. Their Division 1 Group B campaign was bookended by heavy defeats on the road - to Kilkenny by 12 points, despite playing with an extra man for two-thirds of the contest, and Clare by nine.

In between, they vanquished Laois by seven and Carlow by 11, but then suffered the indignity of an injury-time sucker punch defeat to Wexford in Croke Park.

So, if you're the glass half-empty type, Dublin's three fixtures against recognisably top-tier opposition yielded zero points … while back-to-back wins over Laois (Walsh Cup and league) is scant recompense for 2019.

However, a more measured assessment is that Dublin didn't look like a team going hell for leather. "We used the league to get a lot of game-time into lads - we achieved that," Kenny noted on the last day in Ennis. "Last year we felt in the league that we didn't give enough exposure to some players and, come championship, they hadn't got the opportunities and maybe it held us back a little bit in the summer."

This policy manifested itself in several different ways. Alan Nolan and Seán Brennan rotated between the posts; Davy Keogh of Thomas Davis was a rookie given several starting auditions up front; while Crummey was redeployed at centre-forward before suffering a broken collarbone against Wexford. That injury could have left the former skipper in a race to be match-fit for May. Covid changed all that.

CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP POINTERS

Kenny was a familiar face in the (absent) Parnell Park crowd as the Dublin SHC race came to a finale. It's fair to surmise that recent club form will have as big bearing on his thought process as that distant national league.

There were several fascinating plots to ponder. James Madden embellished his reputation as a combative man-marker, the Ballyboden defender having largely suffocated two of the most dangerous forwards in the capital, Donal Burke and Con O'Callaghan.

Brennan had a mixed county final, a couple of standout saves countered by some stray puckouts and the heedless concession of a penalty. The question of who starts in goal for Dublin remains unanswered.

David Treacy and Paul Ryan were both hugely productive on the same day, and not from just frees either. It begged the question: will either the Cuala veteran or his Ballyboden counterpart be entrusted with placed-ball duties come championship?

For all the question marks about pace or staying power at this rarefied level, one of them could well start on the presumption that Burke plays but without free-taking responsibilities.

And what of Conal Keaney? Now 38, Dublin's perennial warrior missed the league as he recuperated from his second shoulder operation in two years; but he started all 12 club championship games, hurling and football, for Boden. Whether he starts or is held as an impact sub remains to be seen, but Keaney retains a pivotal role, both as player and influencer.

Most intriguingly of all, Seán Moran's goalscoring form at the semi-final and final stage has left many to wonder if Dublin might move their Cuala colossus from centre-back/sweeper to attack?

Our suspicion is that Dublin will persist with Moran in the half-back role patented for the player when Kenny was manager of Cuala. One of his erstwhile defensive twin towers is liable to feature at half-forward, but Crummey has played there for longer with his club and hit 0-5 from play as Lucan ambushed Kilmacud in the quarter-finals.

KENNY'S CONUNDRUM

For all his history-making achievements with Cuala, the capital's Galwegian commander has a point to prove in what still qualifies as his second season. But the same conundrums that have helped and hindered Dublin in recent years remain to be resolved.

Kenny has a surfeit of quality backs - consider Eoghan O'Donnell, Cian O'Callaghan, Paddy Smyth, Madden, Shane Barrett, the improving Daire Gray, and that's before you even factor where best to utilise Moran and Crummey.

But settling upon their optimum midfield partnership has been an ongoing dilemma, even if Rian McBride may have shown enough league promise to warrant his place.

Up front, meanwhile, there is a long queue of contenders but how many qualify as definite starters? Presumably Sutcliffe as captain; Eamonn Dillon (Trollier's pace offers an X-factor several others are lacking); more than likely Burke; and then how can you ignore Liam Rushe if the body holds up? On the evidence of recent years, though, that's a big if.

In summary, the championship's redrafted format has bequeathed Dublin the perfect draw on paper: an early shot at revenge (against Laois) which could battle-prime them for a daunting semi-final (against Kilkenny).

But are they any closer to a breakthrough? A year of disruption has left none of us, not even Mattie, any the wiser.