DUBLIN hurlers have become accustomed to winning matches and collecting silverware this year, and last night saw them suffer that rarest of 2011 phenomena -- defeat. Not that Anthony Daly was complaining as he departed Athy.
"Chuffed" would be an overstatement, yet Dalo was still bordering on delighted with this final public workout ahead of their May 29 date with Offaly -- a three-point defeat to All-Ireland champions Tipperary in a high-scoring challenge match replete with potential summer pointers.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect was the result itself: Dublin's remodelled and injury-weakened defence may have leaked 3-20, but a 26-point haul and a powerful second-half surge augur positively.
Twelve months ago, another pre-championship challenge between the same counties in Nenagh ended in a 5-25 to 0-15 calamity.
"They gave us an unmerciful beating of a Monday night," Daly recalled, "and they've come some distance in that time.
"I think belief is surging through our lads and, look, it's not about winning or losing challenge matches; it's about performing. And we certainly again performed."
Not all of the experiments paid off but it still proved an educational 70 minutes for the newly crowned Allianz League champions against a team containing seven of Tipp's 2010 All-Ireland final starters.
We had Ryan O'Dwyer getting a serious centre-back audition against his native county, with admittedly mixed results.
We had Michael Carton coming off the bench and back in Sky Blue for the first time this year, having opted off the panel last November.
We had another prolific deadball performance from Paul Ryan, who top-scored with ten points, eight from frees. Dublin's next most potent finisher was actually a defender, with Shane Durkin clipping four eye-catching points from wing-back.
We also had further evidence of Dublin's stock-in-trade this season -- a dogged refusal to accept defeat, even when it seems inevitable.
Here, they trailed 1-14 to 0-9 at the midpoint to a Tipp team that had eased into a commanding position thanks partly to a seventh-minute goal from Shane Bourke, and even more so due to a run of six unanswered points between the 20th and 28th minute.
But Dublin, bolstered by a fresh breeze, came storming back on the resumption.
Even the concession of a second Tipp goal, finished by the lively Seamus Callanan in the 44th minute, didn't soften their cough: they struck the next six scores to edge within a point by the 55th minute.
"That's us since the start of the year," O'Dwyer enthused. "Ferocious togetherness - we're fighting the whole time. There's a never say die attitude, and it's a great thing to be part of."
Untypically, it was a mistake by O'Dwyer (failing to cut out John O'Brien's pass) that paved the way for substitute Pat Kerwick to strike Tipp's third goal after 58 minutes. Dublin kept on pressing but couldn't get quite close enough thereafter.
With Joey Boland definitely out of the Leinster opener against Offaly, the play-anywhere O'Dwyer was auditioned at centre-back -- having played the last few minutes of the league final there.
As a unit, however, the Dublin half-back division initially struggled with the rotational movement of Callanan and Noel McGrath, each of whom had tallied three points from play before the midpoint.
Closer to goal, Ronan Walsh was caught in the slipstream of Bourke while Niall Corcoran -- asked to fill the full-back void left by Tomas Brady's knee injury -- looked less assured than he does in his usual corner-back domain.
Still, the lopsided half-time scoreline was an "injustice to the way we played", argued Daly, citing four missed hand-passes that led to Tipp scores.
As for who will play centre-back against Offaly, the Dublin boss was non-committal. He said O'Dwyer was an option but so too was Liam Rushe (absent here with a virus) and Peter Kelly, who started at corner-back.
O'Dwyer himself declared: "I love centre-back. It takes a bit of getting used to when you've the mindset of being in the forwards, but when I was playing with Cashel I used to play centre-back, so it's not foreign territory to me."
Like Dublin, Tipp open their summer campaign on May 29 -- against Cork -- and their coach Tommy Dunne echoed Daly when describing it as a "useful" workout, adding: "When Dublin came at us hard in the second half, I thought we really dug in to grind out the win."
p Last night's game was staged to commemorate the 1908 All-Ireland final replay, played at the same Geraldine Park venue (in 1909, to be precise), when Tipp emerged handsome 3-15 to 1-5 winners against the Dubs.