DIRE season for Dubs boss ended by Clare
GROUND zero. That's where the Dublin hurlers are today. In ruins.
The year, the season, the team that promised so much, delivered nothing.
Today, they'll begin to pick through their wreck of a season whilst the rest of the serious hurling world get on with the business of playing into summer.
The revolution might be ongoing, but the frontline have fallen. Hard.
The end in Ennis was as cruel and unusual as the beginning of the end in Portlaoise a couple of weeks back - and probably inextricably linked too.
Six points and a man up early in the second-half against Clare and Dublin somehow crumbled. It encapsulated everything about their 2012, devoid of ball-winners up front or leaders on-field.
And once the process began, there was just no chance of it abating.
Clare, roared on by a vocal local support, found the open nerve in Dublin's psyche and poked hard and deep at it until the torture was complete.
A goal and eight points they scored to a single Alan McCrabbe free between the 39th and 55th minutes, a spree which rocked Dublin to their core and left an already brittle team in pieces.
It also put Clare back in the lead and at a time when the Banner defence were pulling off all sorts of heroics and coming away with clean ball after clean ball, the outcome became inevitable.
Dublin's season was finished. The repercussions may be wide-reaching.
"Disappointment is the big emotion," reflected a visibly distraught Anthony Daly. "The year is over and it is finishing in a welter of excitement alright but from a Dublin point of view, not the excitement we wanted.
"You have to take these things on the chin. We seemed to be in a winning position but we didn't drive on, for some reason."
It had started so well.
The Dubs led by four points at half time (0-11 to 0-7) with nine scores coming off the hurley of Paul Ryan from placed balls. Maurice O'Brien, a surprise inclusion in midfield, justified the selection by pitching in with two more. Tomás Brady - redeployed at centre-back - was looking sharp and commanding while Peter Kelly had Darach Honan beaten up a stick.
And the short passing game which Davy Fitzgerald has brought to Clare was looking like proving their undoing. Dublin were wise to it and their forwards were snaffling the Banner moves before they even began.
The upshot was that Dublin looked commanding and the locals were becoming hostile.
"They were getting frustrated, 100 percent," acknowledged Fitzgerald.
"I knew that. I said at half-time they are there to support and if they are not happy they will let us know. But the short passes we did in the second half won us the game because Dublin tried to retreat back and pull back into their full-back line."
Then, Nicky O'Connell went for a second yellow card on 42 minutes and the match altered wildly. John Conlon and Conor McGrath were working harder and winning more ball, and Patrick Donnellan and Brendan Bugler were giving epic performances at the back.
"When we went down to 14 men, six points down, I'd say people were saying Clare are in big trouble and they will fall away," Fitzgerald said afterwards. "I knew we wouldn't fall away. I knew they'd keep fighting to the very end."
Liam Rushe and Ryan O'Dwyer couldn't win any ball at all. The Dublin midfield malfunctioned and none of the subs that Daly introduced made any impact whatsoever.
Clare's tails were up and when they were awarded a 20-metre free on 53 minutes and Tony Kelly squared up, there was only one option he was going to take. "The minute we got it, we were going for it," explained his manager. "We were going for the jugular today. That was the way it was. It didn't enter my head for a second.
"The fight. The tackling. The heart. They never stopped. We worked hard. We just came out on top."
The spare man did Dublin no favours at all. In fact, it could be argued that it proved their undoing. Clare kept rotating men so no one individual was the designated spare man and the collective malaise which has afflicted Dublin all year came back to haunt them for one last time.
"To be honest, we mentally switched off in the second-half," admitted Dublin corner-back Niall Corcoran.
"When we went a man up we thought the game was over. We just switched off and stopped hurling.
"We thought it would just happen for us instead of pushing on."Flat
Corcoran's last point is something of a recurring theme, one alluded to by Daly after the Kilkenny stuffing of a couple of weeks back.
Yesterday's events in Croke Park proved that, yes, Kilkenny were there for the taking. But Dublin weren't even close to the levels required to examine that.
Why Dublin were so flat and won so few games all year will be the subject of inquisitions right through the remainder of summer.
"All year we haven't been winning games and it's been one-point and two-point losses in the league and maybe the confidence was low," admitted Corcoran ruefully. "We have to go back and look at ourselves again and see where we go from here.
"Two years ago we were beaten by Antrim in a qualifier and that hurt us and we used that to our advantage. We have to do the same thing this year, we have to look back and it'll be a long summer ahead."
He added: "We've to take it in our stride and use it as motivation for next year. If we're man enough we'll all take it on but it's going to be a long, long summer now."