LEARNING to cope with favouritism -- and learning not to leak so many goals. These are two of the harsh lessons that must be absorbed by the Dublin hurlers, according to their manager Anthony Daly.
Whereas Dublin easily survived, even thrived, during their first NHL under Daly, this year's Division One campaign has been a more fraught experience to date.
They have twice played well when the pressure was on -- trouncing Tipperary and giving Kilkenny a real run for their euro last Sunday. But they have also floundered twice when fancied to take points on the road, against a depleted Waterford and then Offaly.
"It's an evolution for these guys, being able to cope with being favourites on a given day, and we just didn't seem to handle it," the manager admitted, referring to the Offaly setback. "We were very flat. I went straight to Tullamore to meet them (that day) and I just saw them landing into the dressing-room and I had a bad feeling about it straight away.
"They hadn't got a battle face on them anyway, that's for sure.
"In fairness to Offaly, they saw it as a chance ... and in the last 15-20 minutes they completely outfought us. It's about trying to maintain Division One for us, three games left. We might need two wins, you'd imagine one win might do, but we need a win somewhere. No better day to start than on Sunday really."
Sunday, though, is "another tough one" at home to a Cork side currently lying top of the pile on seven points. "They're flying," Daly remarked.
Cork's recent revenge mission against Kilkenny "took on a life of its own after the beating they got down in Nowlan Park last year", he surmised. As for last Sunday's drawn clash with Waterford, Daly added: "I just saw the highlights last night and there seemed to be savage scores in it. (Michael) Cussen seemed to be flying and if he's not flying the other fella (Aisake ó hAilpín) will come in."
With this in mind, Daly will be hoping for a tighter rearguard performance. "We're giving away too many goals," he says.
This year's relative struggle is all part of the "learning curve", the Clareman surmised. "Teams are more ready for us this year as well," he said. "We need to stay in Division One. I'd be good friends with Sparrow (Clare manager Ger O'Loughlin); they're up in Antrim scraping through by a point and we're playing Kilkenny in Parnell in front of a good crowd -- which is where you want to be."