WATCHING our unheralded hurlers from Laois bisect the Portlaoise uprights with a dizzy array of long-distance points, this column couldn’t help but rewind less than 24 hours to the evening before in Tullamore.
Dublin are an established Division 1A outfit, recent league champions (2011), even more recent kings of Leinster (2013), a team that under Ger Cunningham’s management this year has dispensed February trimmings to Tipp and Kilkenny, no less. Now that it’s June, how could they mutate into Rag Ball Rovers?
And while we’re at it, how could Division 1B strugglers like Laois – a team that temporarily lost its manager less than a fortnight earlier – play with such controlled aggression and tactical nous even as an historic win loomed into view?
Put it this way: if the same tuned-out Dublin that turned up in Tullamore had played Laois instead of Galway, another embarrassing defeat (perhaps of a different ilk, peppered with points instead of gutted with goals) would surely have materialised.
We appreciate that Offaly are no Galway and it’s dangerous to be making such hypothetical leaps ... but that is how impressive were Laois last weekend and how scarily bad were Dublin.
“These days seem to transcend from nowhere at times – after being involved, I feel for Ger,” said Anthony Daly on The Sunday Game.
His empathy was perfectly understandable, and you couldn’t help but hark back to the 2012 Leinster semi-final when Dublin fans journeyed to Portlaoise in hope of a famous ambush only to endure an 18-point lesson from Kilkenny.
Afterwards, Daly lamented: “If we gathered up 20 at the Red Cow and came down this morning, it could hardly have been worse.”
Well, in a way, Saturday was. With apologies to our mercurial stickmen from the west, Dublin were playing Galway, not Kilkenny. The naivety of setting up as they did when facing into that first half gale has been well dissected already, but Daly summed it up perfectly on Sunday night: “Into that storm in Tullamore, not to have an extra man back, I think, was suicidal.”
Donal Óg Cusack described some of the Dublin defending as “schoolboy” and in need of “radical surgery”, identifying the half-back line’s positioning (all three outside the 45) as Joe Canning collected possession in the lead-up to his first goal.
This calamitous gap between the two defensive lines was Dublin’s most glaring structural failure. We’ve read Ger Cunningham’s explanation that a sweeper was brought back “inside four or five minutes” ... let’s just say the presence of an extra defender wasn’t especially evident in the press box until Liam Rushe abandoned his forward posting for old centre-back haunts. At that stage, Galway had gorged themselves to the tune of 3-10. Horse. Bolted.
Was Saturday one of those rare ‘Red Cow’ days for hurling’s new enigmas (step aside Galway, for now!) or symptomatic of a deeper malaise, evidenced by last summer’s Kilkenny/Tipp double-whammy and the first half of their original deadlock with Galway?
We won’t know, for sure, until the qualifiers kick off.
For now, though, let’s just say the honeymoon is over.