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Dubs in danger of Cats dander

WE'LL start with a $64m question for Anthony Daly and everyone else associated with the currently flip- flopping Dublin hurlers: just when is the best time to face Kilkenny?

Is it when the black-and-amber machine is motoring along at full pelt, hurling's answer to an unstoppable force of nature, and possibly prone to just a smidgen of complacency? Or is it when the Cats are licking their wounds after -- shock horror -- suffering a back-to-back brace of defeats?

Hmmm ... Forgive us while we take a rain check on that one!

In truth, there's never a good time. If Brian Cody's men are at full strength and in the groove, they enjoy nothing better than hammering home their supremacy -- especially when the opposition are ambitious upstarts with designs on their provincial crown.

But on the flip side, just imagine the scene at training this past week as the most successful manager in hurling history points out the unwanted distinction that awaits his group should they become the first Kilkenny team since God knows when to lose three games on the bounce.


It's only the league, for sure, but the league still matters to Cody. After all, they have won it five times on his watch.

Whatever happens tomorrow the Division One table certainly has a strange look in advance of round four. It's always a shock to see Kilkenny loitering in the wrong half, notwithstanding the ready-made excuse of a lengthy absentee list for their close-run defeats by Tipperary and Cork.

The fact that Dublin are stuck on the same two-point mark is more of a surprise than a shock, but it certainly flies in the face of their stated pre- season target of reaching a league final.

Even more surprising have been the wild oscillations in form accompanying their results. Even playing away, they were 'meant' to beat a seriously depleted Waterford but were soundly thrashed.

That left fans fearing the worst ahead of their home clash with Tipperary, but Dublin duly produced arguably the finest display of the 'Dalo' era to win by nine. On that basis, surely, they'd have too much savvy for Offaly? Instead, they surrendered a winning position early in the second half and ended up losing by seven.

All of this leaves you tempted to ask: will the real Dublin please stand up? In the interests of fairness, you must factor in the quality of Offaly's performance when faced by adversity -- yet in any other season where Limerick weren't at war with themselves, a seven-point reversal by the Faithful would constitute real relegation form.

The hope for Daly and co is that his chastened team will respond in the same emphatic manner that saw them tear into Tipperary last month. They're at home again, which is a help; they won't have to face the celebrating Ballyhale boys (Henry, Cha, TJ et al) or a handful of stricken stars (JJ Delaney being the latest), which is another practical encouragement.

But we must return to our opening point: Kilkenny don't like losing so the prospect of three in a row must be positively loathsome.

Dublin's line-up, announced yesterday morning, has the clear look of a programme (aka dummy) team with no changes from the Offaly game. Liam Rushe was one of the few who performed close to potential in Tullamore, but he could be doubtful following a training ground collision on Thursday night.

Whatever shape the team takes, attitude must be spot-on. Even then that mightn't be quite enough.

ODDS: Dublin 9/2, Draw 12/1, Kilkenny 1/6

VERDICT: Kilkenny