Making waves: Dublin are now on equal footing to Galway
Five years after being eliminated by Westmeath, Dublin are now on equalfooting to Galway but the Tribesmenhave plenty to prove tonight
WHO would have thought five years ago that in 2011, Dublin hurlers would go into the Leinster championship as Division 1 League champions, having beaten Kilkenny, Tipperary, Cork, Wexford, Offaly and drawn with Waterford?
Back in 2006, Dublin were beaten by Westmeath in the Leinster championship and then lost all three qualifier games to Offaly, Clare and Limerick. So, if anyone had predicted that five years later they would be heading into a Leinster semi-final with a 50-50 chance against the third favourites for the All-Ireland, it would have sounded daft.
All the more so if it was suggested that their opponents would be Galway. What's that? Galway in Leinster? Five years ago, there was so much opposition to the idea among many of Galway's decision-makers that the idea seemed unlikely to get anywhere.
But it happened and now, in their third season as cuckoos in the Leinster nest, Galway are trying to throw out one of the home birds who have been spreading their wings impressively.
It all adds up to what should be one of the highlights of the championship as Galway and Dublin clash in Tullamore this evening.
The bookies have Galway as marginal favourites, although that's down to impression rather than hard facts. Dublin have been the team of the year so far, playing with real consistency.
Ironically, their only defeat came against Galway in the league, but, even then, Dublin did enough to win the game, only to be let down by poor shooting. Galway's inconsistency haunted them in the league and they didn't exactly electrify Cusack Park two weeks ago when Westmeath pushed them much further than expected.
Still, this is where the season really starts for Galway. Defeat would be far more serious for them than for Dublin, as it would mean that somebody else had pushed past them in the queue behind Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford.
Besides, Galway haven't delivered a really memorable championship performance since 2005, so the time for talk of squad-building, bad luck and other assorted excuses is over. It's delivery time and, in that regard, it's down to the players.
All the managers Galway had over the years couldn't have been wrong. Yes, there were curious calls from time to time, but ultimately it's up to players to sort things out on the pitch. Winners play their way out of difficulty -- losers react badly, or not at all, and then look for excuses.
I expect Galway to win this evening for the following reasons: they have the skill-set to do so; they know the consequences of defeat; and O'Connor Park will suit them.
The latter might sound strange as Galway would be classed as a running team who like to use space, but Dublin are actually the masters at that right now.
They have prospered in the wide open spaces of Croke Park this year, but may not be quite as efficient in slightly smaller confines.
It will be very interesting to see what tactics Anthony Daly comes up with. Knowing him, I expect he'll pull a trick or two, but my advice to John McIntyre would be -- don't react. Set out your own stall and make Dublin worry about it.
Dublin have been adept at getting good ball into their full-forward line all year, but are well able to take scores from further out too with lads like John McCaffrey, Alan McCrabbe, Liam Rushe and Ryan O'Dwyer all oozing confidence.
That's why Galway midfielders Barry Daly and David Burke and half-backs Shane Kavanagh, Tony Og Regan and Adrian Cullinane have to be on their game all through.
If they are and they succeed in disrupting Dublin at source, then the flow in the direction of Joe Canning, Damien Hayes and Co could be enough to give Galway the edge.
There's no doubt that the absence of Joey Boland is a serious loss for Dublin. They have a much stronger panel than a few years ago, but no team can afford to lose their No 1 centre-back and not feel the impact.
This is new territory for Dublin as their supporters now expect, rather than hope, they will win, but, as they discovered against Offaly, the championship is a far more dangerous animal than the league.
Galway's need is close to desperate at this stage and while that can sometimes paralyse a team, alternatively it can energise them.
I expect the latter will be the case for Galway and that they will win a close battle, leaving Dublin disappointed, but still well primed for another push, via the qualifiers.