'Having the head right' is key to a Sky Blue rebirth
Frank Roche assesses the psychological challenge facing both Dublin and Laois tomorrow night
MAURICE O'BRIEN harks back to his playing days with Dublin and how they didn't always react positively to a provincial mauling, invariably inflicted by killer Cats.
This year the damage was wreaked by men in maroon, but it's a similar challenge facing Ger Cunningham's embattled Blues as they head for O'Moore Park tomorrow (throw-in 7pm) and a make-or-break qualifier with Laois.
"The years where we performed well against Kilkenny and beat them and got close to them, the qualifier run has been good and we've got to quarter-finals," O'Brien recalls.
"The years where we've had bad beatings, we've been dumped out by Antrim; dumped out by Clare down in Ennis.
"So we really need to focus now to make sure we don't get dumped out early again."
The irony of this weekend's watershed is that they face a team similarly shredded by a Galway hurricane. Dublin were blitzed in the opening quarter of their Leinster quarter-final replay and lost by 13 points.
Next day out, Laois's much-touted defensive system suffocated Galway for that opening quarter … only for a freak goal to signal a spectacular dam burst of points before half-time, and they lost by 20.
Do the maths: Laois suffered more.
Yet according to former Galway manager Noel Lane, who has watched their two games with Dublin and that eventual landslide against Laois, the mental scars are likely to cut deeper for the Dubs.
"Psychologically Laois are in a better spot, because they beat Offaly - the first time in 43 years," Lane suggests. "And having done very well against Galway for 17 minutes, they will bring a lot of positives.
"Dublin, on the other hand … having blown a chance in the league semi-final, where they were so far ahead, I think psychologically they will be in a worse place than Laois. There's no doubt about that.
"I'd say they are wondering what has gone wrong? The wheels have come off. They were annihilated by Galway really. They were embarrassed.
"It was one thing conceding the three goals and the 10 points (in the first 20 minutes) but missing two penalties … it was just torment, I'd say, for them after the first 15 minutes. That would have left scar tissue."
IT'S all a far cry from April 19 in Nowlan Park. The clock reads 2.18pm, and David O'Callaghan has just pirouetted through a sieve-like Cork defence for Dublin's second goal. They lead by 2-9 to 0-3 in this Allianz League Division One semi-final, with just a quarter of the game elapsed. Another big final beckons ...
This is the game to which Lane refers to above. Dublin were still in relative control just before the hour-mark, leading by seven points; they would only manage one more point whereas our Rebels reborn hit them for 1-6 to win via an injury-time point. Gut-wrenching stuff. Still, only a league semi-final?
In truth, though, Dublin have struggled since then to recapture the sparkle that illuminated several - but not all - of their spring displays under their new manager.
Such was their defensive disarray that they were blessed to be just a point in arrears at half-time against Galway in the drawn semi-final at Croke Park.
"They improved on the resumption and should have secured a narrow victory - but David Treacy fluffed a free and Aidan Harte capitalised with a late equaliser. They couldn't get the job done.
The resultant replay carnage in Tullamore, Cathal Mannion plundering a hat-trick inside 11 minutes, was scarcely believable. "Being honest," admits Maurice O'Brien, "I was shocked to see what was going on. To see a team so brutally opened up and exposed.
"Be it a management thing or be it players, after conceding a goal or two goals so quickly, straight away you'd be thinking 'Go into defensive mode here against such a strong gale'.
"But by the time Liam Rushe went back as a sweeper, it was game over. It was irrelevant.
"So I think it was completely reactionary to how Galway performed. And to start out into a gale like that without a contingency to cover your full-back line, and be it a dodgy full-back line with Paul Schutte coming back from injury … and Peter Kelly out. In essence, the full-back line was going to be targeted."
Noel Lane reckons the Dublin defence was "found out the second day with more or less the same frailties" that were evident on day one.
"Naïve in the sense that, against the wind, they didn't bring a man back - and when they did, sure it was too late. Especially when they have the ideal fella in Liam Rushe to do that."
But what about Laois: while Dublin conceded 5-19 to Galway, didn't they leak 3-28?
"Laois went 15 minutes and did exactly what they would have wanted - held Galway," Lane points out.
"Now, I was actually worried for Galway and impressed with Laois. But when they got undone, they got completely undone."
NOW for the qualifiers: rebirth, redemption, or fade away ...
It will be four weeks since Dublin imploded - a positive, according to O'Brien, who says: "A week turnaround is very hard, to mentally get yourself over a beating like that. Even two weeks.
"So the fact that it has been four weeks ... no doubt there was a meeting between the players to see what went wrong or what can they fix. And then you've two weeks to train hard and to see who's on form and have a couple of training matches. So I think it's definitely a benefit."
Yet, even though Dublin are emphatic favourites (1/10 according to Boylesports) this is still a fixture laden with potential landmines.
"Laois won't go man-for-man," says Lane. "If they did, I'd fancy Dublin. But Laois are going to play eight men back, and they're going to dig away at that. And they're becoming pretty good at it now."
Last word to O'Brien: "Everybody's worked hard on the training ground - that's a given at this level.
"It's having your head right. Having a bit of positivity. Being mentally prepared for what Laois are going to throw at you - which is everything, and a very defensive set-up.
"If Dublin are serious about where they're going, what they want to do, they should be beating Laois - but it's by no means a given.
"If the attitude isn't 100 per cent, you're in a dogfight. And once you're in a dogfight, anything can happen down in Portlaoise."
I was shocked to see what was going on. To see a team so brutally opened up and exposed