DUBLIN v TIPPERARY
(Croke Pk, Tonight 5.0, live Setanta Ireland)
ANTHONY DALY has been a magnificent manager for the Dublin hurlers but the idea that he's a "lucky general" is looking less obvious by the week.
To the insult of last Sunday's smash-and-grab defeat in Kilkenny you can now add injury -- the hamstrung Paul Ryan and Conor McCormack picked up knocks in Nowlan Park and will miss this evening's showdown with Tipperary as a consequence.
Crippling injuries of a longer-term nature have been a recurring source of frustration during Daly's three-and-a-half-year reign. Arguably the most amazing feature of last year's standout season was how they shipped one torn cruciate after another and still managed to play at such an elevated level, never -- it seemed -- feeling sorry for themselves.
This spring, the Dubs are still enduring the legacy of last year's casualty list, with Stephen Hiney, Tomás Brady and Conal Keaney yet to regain fitness.
Their absence during the league was factored into Dublin's campaign, but what wasn't in the 'Dalo' masterplan was that his defending NHL champions would find themselves locked in a potential relegation battle.
After three games, they are pointless. Some observers might surmise that Dublin's problems stem from a strangely listless day-one display in Pearse Stadium: then, the visiting line-up looked stronger on paper but were comprehensively outfought and outscored by a gung-ho Galway, heavily laden with All-Ireland U21 graduates from last September.
But the idea that this result knocked Dublin's confidence for six simply doesn't stack up. They excelled for much of the second half against Cork and could count themselves very unlucky one-point losers at the finish.
They were better again on Noreside -- and unluckier still. It defies belief that you could score six goals (against Kilkenny of all teams) and still end up losing.
Even though Dublin leaked five goals themselves, we are not inclined to blame a defence that offered heroic resistance until, it seemed, their legs buckled from the strain of playing with 14 men for almost half an hour.
Niall Corcoran, Johnny McCaffrey and Joey Boland especially caught the eye, and it's worth pointing out that Dublin had only conceded one goal after 54 minutes, and two after 63.
However, that same defence could be in for another leg-sapping 70 minutes if we're to judge from Tipp's recent return to prolific form.
Having shipped a worryingly emphatic defeat by Kilkenny, Declan Ryan's men have bounced back with match-winning tallies of 2-20 against Galway and 0-31 against Waterford.
Dublin's recent league record against the Premier bodes well -- they've won in Parnell Park (emphatically) two years ago and in Croker (by a point) last spring.
Our suspicion is that tonight's rematch will be of the close variety, but Tipp's current scoring rate and Dublin's welcome re-invention as goal-hungry assassins (eight in two games) means it could be pretty high-scoring too.
However, the loss of Ryan and McCormack is a double blow. Dublin have form but Tipp have momentum.
ODDS: Dub 15/8, Draw 9/1, Tipperary 8/15