Wilting Lilies in need of revival after Loss No 10
Three months out from the Leinster senior football final, here's a straight-forward question ... name the most likely obstacle to an eighth consecutive provincial crown for Dublin?
Answer: Kildare. The same Kildare team that has just lost ten in a row.
Does this make any sense? How can a team so beset by cumulative erosion of self-belief be deemed the one opponent best equipped to resist this Sky Blue monopoly?
Because they're the best of a very middling-to-mediocre lot. And also because their prospects are bordering on a fantasy.
If you check the bookies, they are indeed second Leinster favourites (at 10/1) but are so far removed from the 1/20 Dubs as to render their chances theoretical at best.
Cian O'Neill's crew are next in the betting for several reasons: they're in the 'easier, non-Dublin' half of the draw; they're the only Leinster team since Meath 2013 to avoid a double-digit SFC defeat to the Dubs; and because other would-be rivals, primarily Meath, are showing even less sign of emerging from the peloton of eastern also-rans.
It hasn't been a disastrous league for every non-Dublin Leinster county - the Carlow heroes of 2017 have carried on the same trailblazing path by achieving historic promotion from Division 4, while Longford have promotion destiny in their own hands after a superb Division 3 campaign.
By the same token, neither is a genuine challenger to Jim Gavin's machine.
But is anyone? Kildare should be, but their current results rut makes you wonder. Their losing sequence began with that nine-point Leinster f inal defeat to Dublin, followed by a far more deflating qualifier exit to Armagh.
Back-to-back O'Byrne Cup defeats would have been quickly forgotten if they had stepped up to the league plate on their top-flight return. Instead, it's been a frustrating mix of decent spells interspersed with defensive naivety (Dublin); a few 'what if?' setbacks (to Monaghan and Tyrone); fury at officialdom (Donegal); an alarming fade-off (against Mayo, who left behind a handful of goals while cruising home by seven); and another curate's-egg display (against Kerry).
After a promis ing start in Tralee, they still trailed by six at the break - at which point eir Sport analyst James Horan remarked: "You can visibly see them wilt. You can see the confidence go. You could even see their enthusiasm go and, as that half went on, Kerry were strolling through it."
In mitigation, Kildare 'won' the second half, 0-9 to 0-8, and while Daniel Flynn was a prolific inspiration in defeat, the overall performance was a notable improvement on the Mayo debacle. "The defeat is disappointing, but it is not dem oralising," O'Neill insisted.
Yet it still belonged to a losing trend, one containing flickers of promise invariably quenched by more familiar Lilywhite traits: wayward shooting at key moments and a general lack of composure.
Their league fate is long sealed, but is summer rebirth beyond them? It's a huge ask ...