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Alarm bells ringing louder than ever yet Dublin are still asleep

IF it had happened 24 hours later, Pat Gilroy might have consoled himself with the excuse that it was all an elaborate April Fool's Joke. Instead it transpired on the last day of March: the All-Ireland champions pummelled into submission by those great enigmas in green-and-red.

But if you want to put a positive spin on Dublin's 0-20 to 0-8 capitulation to an admittedly red-hot Mayo, it can be found in those opening lines above. This happened on March 31, not June 2 -- or worse again the August Bank Holiday weekend.

For All-Ireland champions chasing that most elusive of targets -- a successful defence of Sam -- you are far better to receive the obligatory wake-up call now, when it's "only the league", than in a knockout championship match with the back-door safety net removed.

Think of Cork last summer, and how they imploded after a flying start against Mayo (now there's a recurring theme) in their All-Ireland quarter-final. Think of Kerry 12 months earlier, hit by suspensions and fatally flat-footed against Down underdogs bristling with attacking intent. These were more than wake-up calls for defending champions. They were back-to-back death knells.

Therein lies the 'good' news for the suddenly embattled Blues: they have plenty of time to absorb the lessons of Castlebar and move on, chastened perhaps but also stirred into a realisation that there are no shortcuts back to the summit, just because you know the route.

Further good news comes with the realisation that Dublin can still qualify for the Allianz Football League Division One semi-finals. The one small impediment? Cork!

Comfort

Dublin's recent record by the Lee scarcely offers crumbs of comfort: a cursory flick through the NFL files reminds you that they've lost their last six trips to the southern capital, twice in 1999 (including the final) as well as in 2002, 2005 (by a cricket score), 2006 and 2010 (by seven points).

Be that as it may, Dublin need a performance this Easter Sunday ... not to ensure play-off qualification per se (which is not the be-all and end-all) but to correct some of the things that were so manifestly wrong against Mayo.

Pat Gilroy has always been a pretty straight talker but it was still unusual to hear him so candidly critical of Dublin's collective failings on Saturday night. You wondered if he saw this as the perfect opportunity to remind his dressing-room that slacking off is simply not an option? Did Dublin travel west in a state of complacency, presuming Mayo opponents on a run of three straight defeats were ripe for the plucking? That strikes us as an over-simplification. Mayo, after all, badly needed the points. And Dublin, more to the point, are there to be targeted in their new-found status as champions.

We had the Mayo backlash, for sure, and virtually nothing from Dublin in return. Their injury-depleted options up front can be cited in mitigation, but only partially so. Skipper Bryan Cullen, during the first half, was about the only man in blue to emerge in any form of credit.

In so many facets, the visitors were found wanting -- starting with that usual font of pinpoint excellence, Stephen Cluxton's restarts, and culminating in more disciplinary trouble with the dismissals of Paul Flynn and (for a second yellow) Diarmuid Connolly.

On the latter point, Dublin clearly have an issue this spring and Gilroy admitted as much.

It's not that they've become a 'dirty' team, but they have been prone to individual bouts of recklessness or retaliation ... and the last thing they want heading into summer is a coterie of referees deciding that Dublin players require extra-close attention.

However, indiscipline was not the primary problem on Saturday night -- it may even have been a by-product of a more general malaise.

Trawling through our Castlebar notes, you are reminded how a litany of first-half scores stemmed from (a) hyper-alert Mayo men pouncing on Cluxton kickouts; (b) a Dublin defender being dispossessed in the tackle or (c) kicking away possession in a perilous position.

Priceless

Then, in the third quarter, we had the likes of Donal Vaughan and Aidan O'Shea bursting through 'tackles' that would struggle to satisfy the Trade Descriptions Act.

Little wonder, then, that one buzzword kept cropping up in Gilroy's post-match briefing ... intensity. That priceless commodity has been a near-constant in Dublin since the nightmarish All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry in 2009 -- and certainly since the following summer's five-goal implosion against Meath in Leinster.

But when Dublin aren't switched on, when they aren't squeezing space and tackling with disciplined ferocity, they aren't half the team they can be. One of the manager's most revealing comments about their dearth of intensity read as follows: "If we don't have it, we are a poor team and that has happened to us three times now in the league."

He was referring to the losses against Kerry, Down and now Mayo. On the first two occasions, Dublin bounced back with impressive intent -- against Mayo for 35 minutes back in February before fog intervened, and then against Donegal. After the latter victory, defender Philly McMahon was quoted as describing their tepid display in Down as "the wake-up call we needed".

In which case, presumably, the alarm bells are ringing even louder this evening.


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