Rare underdog role may help Dublin regain their lost battle
A year ago, Dublin went into the All-Ireland quarter-final over-hyped and over-rated. For reasons totally unrelated to the reality of their status compared to Kerry, they had somehow nudged into the favourites' slot.
It was the ultimate example of propaganda outweighing reasoned analysis and, while thriving in its own rarefied atmosphere, it was always going to evaporate once it was subjected to systematic evaluation on match day.
Kerry's particular brand of scrutiny took all of 15 minutes to diagnose that Dublin's were so defensively frail that it looked as if the blue jerseys were being worn by ghosts.
By then, Dublin had conceded 1-5; by half-time it stood at 1-14 and, by the end, had ballooned to 1-24.
"We were like startled earwigs for the first 15 minutes," said Pat Gilroy. "There were so many changes we could have made because we were getting killed everywhere."
What was certain from that moment on was that a much-altered model would take to the 2010 circuit.
Just under 11 months later, Gilroy found himself explaining another merciless trimming, this time by Meath who won by 11 points in the Leinster semi-final in late June.
It was the first time in 81 years that Dublin had conceded five goals in a provincial championship game.
It was also the first time since 2004 that they were headed for the qualifier door.
"We felt over the last few years that we didn't have a chance to rectify bad performances until the following year. Now questions are going to be asked of us and we'll see if we have the answers," said Gilroy afterwards.
So far, Dublin have provided three satisfactory replies against Tipperary, Armagh and Louth and are back in the All-Ireland quarter-final, facing yet another team who have crushed them in the past.
Tyrone beat Dublin by 12 points in the 2008 quarter-final, prompting Paul Caffrey to resign as manager after four seasons and four Leinster title successes.
Dublin had started as favourites that day too. Indeed, you could have backed Tyrone at 3/1.
"Crazy," mused Caffrey as he reflected on how Dublin were totally out-gunned by Tyrone's big barrels.
Today, as the markets desert them, Dublin are 9/4 outsiders.
It's unfamiliar territory and is just as illogical as their favourites' ratings against Tyrone and Kerry were over the last two years. Yes, Dublin are outsiders but 9/4? They will be some takers for that.
Beating Tipperary, who lost to Kerry by 12 points, Armagh, who lost to Monaghan by 12 points and Louth, who shrivelled under the disappointment of the Leinster final trauma, doesn't provide conclusive evidence that Dublin are re-established as major All-Ireland contenders but it has given them the opportunity to do something about it.
If ever there was a game for Dublin to make a statement about themselves, this is it. They are no longer playing under the weight of ridiculous expectation which regularly landed on their shoulders without justifiable reason.
The degree to which that contributed to their calamitous cave-ins is impossible to quantify, but it certainly didn't help them.
That's why it will be extremely interesting to see how Dublin function in this less pressurised environment.
Gilroy said last May that progress for Dublin would be that whenever they left the championship, they would have given a good performance.
That rather conservative ambition might not have best pleased the supporters who regard Dublin as serious All-Ireland contenders every year but, from Gilroy's perspective, it made sense. All the more so after Meath hit Dublin for 5-9.
Deep down, though, his target area is a whole lot higher.
An attack that features Bernard and Alan Brogan and the free-spirited Eoghan O'Gara, whose strong, direct running brings an added dimension, can threaten any defensive system if the supply lines are fluent.
Tyrone are experts at smothering opposition onslaughts, but Dublin did make considerable progress against them in the NFL clash in Omagh in April.
Tyrone hadn't really functioned in that campaign but needed to win that day to make sure they stayed in Division 1.
However, with Bernard Brogan, who got smart support from Kevin McManamon, consistently showing ahead of the Tyrone full-back line Dublin were by far the better team and fully deserved their six-point win. Admittedly, Tyrone had an excuse for their frailties in the full-back line as Joe McMahon went off injured after 14 minutes.
League form hasn't held up very well in the championship but, at the same time, many of the Dublin players have pleasant memories of their trip to Omagh.
It certainly won't win today's game for them but it's still a positive, however small.
It has been a long time since Dublin won a big game as outsiders.
Indeed, it's probably as far back as the 2002 Leinster semi-final when they beat defending champions Meath, and even then the betting would have been close.
Quite when Dublin last won at odds as long as 9/4 is difficult to recall but, in its own way, that could be a help to them. Clearly, they are a better team than they showed in the second half against Meath but after conceding five goals that day the general view is that they are in line for another heavy defeat against Tyrone, who have an excellent record in Croke Park since the start of the Mickey Harte era in 2003.
However, history shows that Tyrone can be vulnerable in quarter-finals.
Mayo beat them in 2004; Meath stunned them in 2007 and while they beat Kildare last year, they were pushed all the way before winning by two points.
Now, they have come out of an Ulster campaign where the quality was a long way short of where it was for much of the last decade.
Cork proved last year that if a team runs at Tyrone and moves the ball quickly and efficiently, it's possible to make progress -- so presumably that's the kind of strategy Dublin will apply today.
The Dubs head for Croke Park with a much-changed team from last year (there are only seven survivors from the team that lost the quarter-final in the line-up) and now the big question is whether the mindset is different.
It appeared to be, up until that shocking second-half display against Meath.
Dublin have made some corrections and are taking the view that it was an aberration that won't be repeated.
It did, however, send them in a different direction, which has provided them with three games as opposed to what might have been only one had they beaten Meath.
It also lowered their stock in the eyes of the football world, leaving them facing a quarter-final as unfancied outsiders.
It's actually not a bad place to be. After all, emerging from the favourites' domain hasn't exactly served them well in recent years.