Dubs must find solid footing
Daly can build qualifier foundations on tight defensive display against Kilkenny
THIS time last year, Dublin went to Portlaoise, tried to hurl against Kilkenny with a straight-up formation and were beaten out the gate. Much of the focus afterwards was on why Anthony Daly hadn't shaped them a bit more defensively but, frankly, it didn't matter how he set them up, because their touch was way off.
It's hard enough to match Kilkenny if your touch is good, but if you take an extra millisecond to bring the ball under control, you'll find it's in opposition hands.
And when those hands belong to Kilkenny men, they will cause untold damage as they did last year. It was all over in 25 minutes, by which stage Kilkenny were nine points ahead. The only reason to ever look back is to learn, so when Dublin check on last year, there are two lessons which stand out.
Firstly, their touch must be infinitely better and secondly, they need to crowd the channels in their own half. That will take extra reinforcements from further up, but so be it. Laois did it very successfully against Galway last Sunday and it kept them in the game for 65 minutes.
Daly did it with Dublin and Clare teams in the past, so he knows exactly how it works. Granted, it reduces scoring options at the other end, but if Dublin are to stay in this game and make Kilkenny work at full pace, they need to be defensively secure. They cannot afford anything like a repeat of last year's limp effort as another big defeat would all but wipe them out for the qualifiers.
A solid, albeit losing, performance would, on the other hand, leave them with a decent chance of building something later on. Their touch wasn't good against Wexford in the first game, but improved last weekend, admittedly in circumstances made much easier by having an extra man for more than an hour.
It's interesting how there seems to be a view that Kilkenny are now virtually unbeatable again. This comes fewer than 11 months after predictions flourished that they had reached the end of the line when Galway beat them in the Leinster final. Personally, I don't think Kilkenny are as good as they were some years ago but the chasing pack, supposedly led by Tipperary and Galway, appear to have lost some pace.
Dublin haven't come all that close to Kilkenny in the championship in recent years, a pattern which may change tomorrow, but I can't see them winning unless they deliver the performance of their lives. Even then, it would have to coincide with Kilkenny having an off-day. It's an unlikely double.
Still, if Dublin put in a really good performance, it will give them genuine hope for the qualifiers where they may well be playing Cork. I expect Clare to beat Cork for two reasons. They are improving all the time, while the loss of so many top players is a serious setback for Cork.
Not every Clare supporter is enamoured with the style of play Davy Fitz is applying, but they will go along with it as long as it produces favourable results. So far, so good on that front, but Clare still remain very much a work-in-progress. They bring huge energy and effervescence to their game, but it was only in the opening five and the final 15 minutes that they made it really count against Waterford.
It was enough to bring them an eight-point win but they can't ignore the fact that Waterford outhurled them comprehensively from the fifth to the 40th minutes, but didn't convert enough chances to set Clare a really daunting target.
If Cork get similar opportunities, they will do a lot better. Cork would always feel that they can beat Clare – it's a tradition thing – and while it won't win games, it can be a help in building confidence at a time when the Rebels are not at their most imposing.
We have yet to see Cork in the championship, so it's difficult to gauge precisely the level they are at, whereas we know how Clare are fixed. By tomorrow evening, I expect that to include being in the Munster final.
It's a long time since Waterford exited the championship this early, so they are certain to power into this evening's qualifier in Tullamore with furious intent. So, too, will an Offaly team that has been re-energised by the performance against Kilkenny, so this should be a really good contest.
Offaly are improving, but have not been competing at the same level as Waterford on a consistent basis, which is why I fancy Michael Ryan's men to advance.
Wexford will do likewise against Antrim, a county that needs to re-assess exactly where it's at. Basically, if they can't get all their best players hurling for the county, there's something wrong. You have to wonder if some players believe they have a better chance of success with their clubs rather than with the county. It's a pity if that is the case. What's more, it's not the spirit we all came to know and respect in Antrim.
In the other qualifier game, Westmeath look likely to book a clash with the Offaly-Waterford winners by beating London.