DUBLIN'S provincial and national ambitions were put in stark perspective as they succumbed to Cork by 20 points in their minor hurling challenge at Parnell Park last Sunday.
There were mitigating factors to help explain Dublin's below-par performance in the 4-22 to 0-14 loss with a number of injuries exacerbating the omissions enforced by Leaving Certificate commitments.
However, with their opponents similarly inconvenienced, and with Kilkenny on the horizon on Saturday week, it was not the type of display that will suffice if Dublin are to progress to their fourth successive provincial final.
"It was very disappointing," conceded team manager Pat Fanning. "I suppose you have one of those days when not everything goes right and an awful lot went wrong out there today. We have a mountain to climb and an awful lot of work to do and we can blame our absentees and our injuries to some extent, but the players we had out today should be capable of playing at a higher level than they showed."
Dublin's struggles were especially evident in the second half when they only managed three points, whereas a more consistent Cork side plundered 2-11 in either half.
Dublin started reasonably brightly through early points from play by captain Sean Treacy and Eoghan Conroy with Mark O'Connor and Dave Noonan replying for the Rebels.
Cork found scores far easier to come by, however, although Dublin enjoyed a degree of solidity offered by centre-back Andrew Murphy and lead by 0-4 to 0-3 by the 11th minute.
Colin Lynch maintained Dublin's lead when bravely blocking a Mike Cahalane shot but there was little he could do in the 14th minute when Sean Hayes landed the first goal.
Sean Ryan and Conroy added a brace apiece in quick succession for the hosts but their challenge looked increasingly forlorn when the impressive Patrick Collins buried a 20-metre free in the 26th minute.
Dublin, in contrast, struggled to create goal chances and although Con O'Callaghan at full-forward scored two points, Lynch's heroics in denying Hayes his second goal ensured the Dubs trailed by just 2-11 to 0-11 at the interval.
Dublin almost made the perfect start to the second half but Collins produced a stunning save to deny Chris Bennett in the 37th minute while at the opposite end Hayes enjoyed an alarming amount of space when plundering Cork's third goal six minutes later.
The procession continued with Cork tagging on points at regular intervals while O'Connor took advantage of some tired Dublin tackling to increase his personal tally from placed balls.
Dublin's difficulties were highlighted by their first score of the half arriving as late as the 54th minute through Conroy.
Aaron Ward, whose pace and stick-work caused many problems for Dublin's inexperienced defence, was rewarded for his efforts with a smartly-taken goal in the 62nd minute, confirming a sobering display by the Leinster holders.