DUBLIN v CLARE
(Croke Park, Today 4.0, live RTé2)
THE words of Alan McCrabbe cut to the chase. At a recent promotional gig in the capital, the All Star detailed all the areas where Dublin were found wanting against Kilkenny -- and effectively underlined the extent of the back-door challenge that now awaits.
"We didn't show up on the day. We didn't win any dirty ball. We got bullied off the pitch. That's not the way we usually play. We got too hyped up before the match going into it, we probably expected too much of ourselves, and the early goal probably killed us off a little bit. The heads dropped from there on in. It's up to ourselves to get the heads up for the Clare game," McCrabbe concluded.
This assessment of where Dublin went wrong in their Leinster semi-final sounds pretty withering, but they can't pretend it was any other way.
The bigger worry for coach Anthony Daly is that the performance was not a complete once-off.
Daly himself demanded more "balls and stomach" after their opening round against Laois, a game that ended in a misleading nine-point triumph.
Their half-forward line struggled in aerial combat that day -- a trend fatally repeated against Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney.
Coupled with this malaise under their own puckout is the paucity of goals. Dublin tallied nine during the league but six of those came in the annihilation of Limerick -- they haven't managed a single green flag in their two SHC games to date.
The above helps to explain why the manager has revamped his attack for tomorrow's desperately hard-to-call battle with the manager's native Clare.
Declan O'Dwyer entered the Kilkenny fray at full-forward after 45 minutes and is now retained at No14. This will be his first championship start under Daly and the same applies to Peadar Carton, who came off the bench against Laois but not against Kilkenny.
McCrabbe has also been moved -- from the corner to wing-forward -- presumably in the hope that the Craobh man's ability to ghost onto breaks will see him exert a more profound influence on affairs.
How Daly would love the luxury of a fit and flying David Treacy, whose hamstring travails coupled with David O'Callaghan's dip in form has blunted their attacking potential.
This has the look of a watershed contest in the Clareman's generally positive Sky Blue reign. If they were to lose here, especially playing poorly, Dublin's apparent regression this season will have become fact.
They need to kick on through the qualifiers -- and in fairness to Daly, his own managerial tenure with Clare was a tale of back-door redemption in response to Munster disappointments. Now Dublin crave something similar.
The problem is that we can't be entirely sure what to expect from Clare -- and not just because they have yet to announce a starting team.
The same 15 that started against Waterford last month has been submitted for the match programme, but one or two changes might yet transpire.
Midfielder Nicky O'Connell has been flagged as their biggest injury doubt because of a back/hamstring injury that has seriously curtailed his training.
While Dublin hurling diehards wonder which team will turn up, the same question could be asked of Clare: they were surprisingly limp with promotion at stake in the Division Two league final against Wexford, but their U21 heroes hurled with far more brio and bristling intent as they pushed Waterford all the way in their Munster semi-final.
Ultimately, if Dublin show the "balls and stomach" for a back-door fight, McCrabbe and co may actually win enough dirty ball and they'll live to fight another day. The ball is in their court.
DUBLIN: G Maguire; N Corcoran, T Brady, O Gough; S Hiney, J Boland, M O'Brien; J McCaffrey, S Durkin; P Kelly, L Rushe, A McCrabbe; P Carton, D O'Dwyer, D O'Callaghan.
ODDS: Dublin 6/5, Draw 10/1, Clare 4/5