THOSE incorrigible Dublin hurlers were back in the zone on Saturday night. And they were 'on message' afterwards too.
For 70 absorbing minutes they went toe-to-toe with Kilkenny and deservedly emerged on the right side of a 1-22 to 3-13 scoreline.
Dublin's Allianz League destiny is back in their own hands, but it wasn't just the result that warmed Anthony Daly on a crisp Parnell Park night. His players were voracious in pursuit of ball and pretty clinical when it came to using it. Was this the same side that, six days earlier, failed to score for 27 second-half minutes against 14 Waterford men?
"The big thing with us is we're hot and cold," admitted Danny Sutcliffe, fresh from his 1-5 man-of-the-match heroics.
"That inconsistency is not going to do us any favours," he added. "We knew we'd get a performance against Clare and Kilkenny because we'd lost the week before (to Galway and then Waterford). Inconsistency ... what the footballers do, going out and playing every week, we're not doing it, so we need to get that sorted."
In fairness to Dublin, they aren't the only team revealing Jekyll and Hyde characteristics this spring and nor can you discount the irrefutable evidence that home advantage counts as Division 1A heads for a roller-coaster climax this Sunday.
Dublin travel to Thurles hoping to banish those away-day blues against Tipperary. They appeared in body but not mind for last month's opener in Galway. At least the effort was there in Waterford, if not the execution.
Sutcliffe was injured for the game in Walsh Park; how Dublin could have done with their All Star wing-forward there. On his return, he actually had a low-key start (one early point aside), but from the 30th minute he exploded onto centre-stage, hitting a further 1-3 before the interval.
How Tommy Walsh must hate the sight of Dublin's turf-devouring No 12. Two years ago, the nine-time All Star was taken for 2-3 by the rookie Sutcliffe in a Nowlan Park goalfest. Two evenings ago, he had leaked 1-4 before half-time, after which he failed to reappear – just as happened on his last outing, against Tipperary.
Sutcliffe's was the dominant contribution in a seven-minute 1-6 salvo that saw wind-assisted Dublin turn a threadbare one-point lead into a 10-point chasm. While his 32nd-minute goal was a speculative would-be point fumbled into his own net by David Herity, the sub-plot revealed how Sutcliffe had initially lost his marker when switching wings. When he burned Walsh for another injury-time point, the latter's race was run and the soaring hosts led 1-16 to 1-6.
Kilkenny's subsequent fightback made for a gripping spectacle, but Dublin post-mortems will confirm it was largely self-inflicted. Full-back Peter Kelly made a spectacular 60-metre burst – but when he failed to complete the pass and Kilkenny quickly countered, there wasn't enough cover as Colin Fennelly unleashed a 20m thunderbolt.
Thirty-eight minutes: game on. Then four minutes later, as a Kilkenny shot drifted wide, the just-introduced Jack Doughan was incriminated for a goalmouth tangle with Jonjo Farrell. Penalty – roofed in Anthony Nash fashion by TJ Reid. When Farrell pointed soon after, the gap was down to three. Yet Kilkenny never once got closer, and Dublin's response revealed a tungsten strength of mind.
Sutcliffe apart, they had plenty of heroes putting bodies on the line – no one more so than Joey Boland, a consistent font of midfield possession, assists and points (0-3). Alan McCrabbe was "McCrabber again" (to quote Daly) which translates into that trademark mix of sublime sideline cuts and visionary touches.
Young Colm Cronin (pictured, inset) revealed similar impudence with one majestic flick over Richie Hogan's head; centre-back Liam Rushe came storming into the game as Kilkenny upped the ante; while Conal Keaney was everywhere.
"Look, when we put our mind to it, we can play this game pretty good," Keaney later pronounced.
"But sometimes, when our attitude isn't right, we can get punished and that happened to us in Galway. We've learned a lesson from that day and we're moving on now hopefully."
More specifically, their moving on to Tipp. Depending on the outcome, Dublin will find themselves in a league quarter-final or a relegation play-off. "Sure this result means nothing if we go to Tipperary and lose," Keaney stressed, while Sutcliffe echoed: "There was good support there tonight and good atmosphere, but just (we need to be) giving back to the support that's travelling down for us – they aren't getting that."
As for Kilkenny, if the iconic Walsh is showing signs of mortality, the same applies to Brian Cody's transitional collective. Their younger brigade mostly didn't ignite. John Power nailed an emphatic 1-1 (which was almost 2-1) before his hamstring betrayed him; Pádraig Walsh had a promising second half as his brother's replacement ... but not enough other wannabes delivered.
Overall, a 2-7 tally with the wind (compared to Dublin's 1-16) was telling. Eoin Larkin and Richie Hogan missed point chances they would normally convert with eyes shut, while Fennelly, after his howitzer, appeared too consumed by the need for goals when a handy point would have increased the pressure on Dublin.
Last word to Cody: "They fought hard for it and we can't have any complaints."