FIRST, a couple of rules of thumb. (1) Galway rarely -- if ever -- produce bad under-21 hurling teams. And (2) No team can lose its centre-back, primary scorer from play and their free-taker without being critically, perhaps even mortally, depleted.
Therein lie the two biggest problems facing Dublin going into today's All- Ireland under-21 semi-final clash with the Tribesmen, though it remains to be seen which one will prove more debilitating.
Certainly, had Richie Stakelum been able to called on walking-wounded, David Treacy, Paul Schutte and Shane Stapleton plus football-tied Rory O'Carroll, Dublin would have fancied their chances of making a second final in the last four years.
Without that quartet, though, the outlook appears decidedly bleak. The loss of O'Carroll for the Leinster final made an impact on Dublin's performance, despite the fact that they won on the day.
Martin Quilty has performed ably at number six in his absence but O'Carroll's aggression, physicality, and leadership qualities were massive factors in the Kilkenny match and his loss is acute.
Schutte -- a player who might well have made a splash at senior level by now were it not for a shoulder injury -- would have brought pace, poise and, above all else, an extra adhesive marker to either corner or wing of the Dublin defence.
Not to be.
Bad enough though those two losses were, the cruciate injuries suffered by Treacy and Stapleton within a week of each other were a little like the sick punchlines to a bad joke.
Treacy has struggled all season with a hamstring injury but against Wexford in the Leinster U21 final he was back to something close to his best and his visionary pass to Daire Plunkett amidst a crowd of zealous Model defenders set up the score that effectively won that game.
Stapleton, meanwhile, was a revelation against Kilkenny, excellent from placed-ball and putting in a Trojan shift in attack, though his influence was less pronounced against Wexford.
As replacements, Richie Stakelum has brought in Ciarán Brennan and David Quinn -- both fine hurlers and the pair combined for Dublin's second goal in the Leinster final, though no doubt the manager would prefer them as embellishments from the bench in similar times of strife.
And then there's the opposition problem.
Despite their curious lack of success at senior level, Galway never saw an underage All-Ireland they didn't like the look of, though they have failed at this semi-final hurdle for the past two years.
It's a sign of the depth of young talent that exists in Galway that just three of last September's All-Ireland minor-winning team are adjudged to be good enough to represent this under-21 outfit today.
There are just four of the team which was beaten by Clare in last year's thrilling All-Ireland U21 semi-final remaining and they could well be the men for Dublin to watch out for.
Centre-back David Burke's pedigree is unquestioned. He served three years as a minor and made his senior debut this year, slotting straight in at midfield for John McIntyre's men before a suspension ruled him out of the Leinster final.
Dublin, too, must make sure to be wary of Niall Quinn, Galway's centre-forward with a penchant for high-catches and a sharp turn of pace. Martin Quilty then, will need to be on his guard. Richie Cummins has a long and fruitful career ahead of him but at U21 level, his talent should simply be magnified. His touch, vision, and accuracy are hugely impressive and a lot will hinge on just how tight Oisín Gough can stick to his man.
Dublin though, need big performances from just about everyone who lines out. Clichéd though that sounds, it's hugely pertinent.
Against Kilkenny, their main men, the players with senior experience, all came to the fore but against Wexford and ailing for long periods in Parnell Park, it was some of Dublin's less heralded individuals who took the fight to the Slaneysiders.
Plunkett was immense, and if he gets even half a yard of space against Galway today, he should be encouraged to go for goal. So too was Barry O'Rorke when he came out around the middle. Ditto Niall McMorrow.
Yet to beat a team like Galway, Dublin will need outstanding individual performances and a cohesive team effort.
The relevance of this being Galway's first game of the season is minimal, though.
Yes, Dublin have played and won a provincial championship but Galway are well-prepared, fully stocked and hungry.
Dublin are two out of three of those things but unfortunately for them, it won't be enough.
DUBLIN: F McGarry; R Walsh, D Kelly, O Gough; R O'Loughlin, M Quilty, P Kelly; C Clinton, P Buckeridge; D Quinn, D Plunkett, B O'Rorke; C Brennan, L Rushe, N McMorrow.
GALWAY: C Finnegan; D Connolly, P Gordon, G O'Halloran; S Óg Linnane, D Burke, N Donoghue; J Coen, B Daly; J Regan, N Quinn, E Forde; R Cummins, G Burke, G Kelly.
ODDS: Dublin 17/10, Draw 10/1, Galway 8/5