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Dubs on road to redemption

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Dublin's Paul Ryan. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Paul Ryan. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Paul Ryan. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

THREE weeks ago, Dublin hurlers played with an extra man in Waterford for 38 minutes and didn't know what to do with him.

Yesterday, back at the same venue, they enjoyed numerical supremacy for the last 43 minutes. Groundhog Day for the Dubs? More like redemption day.

This time they made the extra man count both in defence (where Shane Durkin swept up oceans of second half ball) and in the one place that really matters, the scoreboard. Conclusion: Anthony Daly's men are quick learners.

Here's another reason why Dublin will kick off next year's Allianz Hurling League renewing battles with their heavyweight rivals from Division 1A whereas Waterford will be performing off-Broadway ... in two words, Danny Sutcliffe.

Three weeks ago, Sutcliffe was an injured non-runner as Dublin's forward line endured the Walsh Park horrors, struggling to translate possession and perspiration into scoreboard inspiration.

Yesterday, their marauding All Star was fit to start and ultimately he made all the difference. In the space of two minutes during the third quarter, Sutcliffe pounced for two clinically executed goals ... in an instant, nerve-jangling parity had turned into a six-point cushion.

"It was like yer man in the All-Ireland final," the goalscorer demurred, in reference to Clare's Shane O'Donnell. "They broke to me and I just had to give it a bang and thankfully they went in.

CURSED

"One went high which I will be cursed for at training, but it went into the back of the net and we are going back on the bus happy enough," Sutcliffe concluded.

From there to the finish, despite a couple of mini-wobbles and a rising wide count of 14 that indicates copious scope for Championship fine-tuning, Dublin never looked like relinquishing their hold on this must-win relegation play-off. So it ended in five-point victory, 4-13 to 1-17, enabling the visitors to end a winless streak on Waterford soil dating back to 2003.

Afterwards, Daly described their top-flight survival as "vital, because the last couple of years have been a bit disappointing really at underage. We've lost a few (players) to football as well, so there's only one place to be and that's up there, and hopefully Dublin get the three home games next year!" he added, only half in jest.

For seven bewildering minutes at the start, the chances of Dublin ending their recent away-day blues looked the stuff of fanciful dreams. Waterford accelerated from the traps with two points inside 60 seconds (via Ray Barry and Brian O'Sullivan) before Pauric Mahony chipped in with three more en route to a personal 11-point haul.

Dublin were staring down the barrel of a five-point deficit, Waterford seemingly intent on banishing all their recent Clare and Kilkenny-inflicted demons. But then Sutcliffe won a 20m free bearing down on goal, and when Paul Ryan pilfered the placed ball duties from Alan McCrabbe, Dublin's intent was immediately clear.

Ryan, as is his wont, went for the jugular; the sliotar was half-blocked on the line but crept over, and Dublin were back in the ball game.

Still, for much of that first half, it remained a Sky Blue struggle. Darragh Fives announced his seasonal comeback by ambling off the Waterford bench (for the hamstrung Stephen Molumphy) and then immediately ghosting onto a Séamus Prendergast pass – his 21st minute goal duly restored a four-point cushion.

All the while, Dublin laboured to break free from a Waterford defence that, initially at least, had tightened up its act after leaking 9-40 in the previous fortnight. The visitors' first score from play didn't materialise until the 31st minute, when Mark Schutte released Colm Cronin through the central corridor ... it was no 'gimme' but the young Cuala man buried the 20m goal chance with aplomb.

CENSURE

Thus, for the first time, Dublin were level – 2-4 to 1-7 – but arguably the game's turning point came four minutes earlier when Shane O'Sullivan appeared to catch Michael Carton high and referee Johnny Ryan deemed it worthy of the ultimate censure.

That straight red caused bemusement among the Waterford faithful, although manager Derek McGrath afterwards admitted: "I didn't see it and that's being straight up ... we'll have a look at it tonight and decide whether there are grounds for an appeal."

By half-time Dublin had edged one in front, 2-6 to 1-8. Soon after it became the Sutcliffe Show ... Dublin's roaming No 12 had started at full-forward before roving out towards the middle, but he was back in the goalscoring zone (literally and metaphorically) for his two critical strikes.

For his first chance (released by Ryan) he went low with an angled 42nd minute drive. Inside two minutes, he was in the right place when Carton's high delivery broke into his path; this time the finish was high and handsome.

"Everybody saw the Kilkenny game and how important he is to us," said Daly, reflecting on Sutcliffe's pivotal contribution. "He probably, overall, didn't have as good a day as he might have hoped he'd have ... but they were two massive goals. He gambled, made the run on both occasions, and finished superbly. That's really what you want from a top-class player."

As for Waterford, McGrath departed the top-flight clinging to the belief that "every cloud has a silver lining", recalling how Clare and Cork contested last year's relegation play-off.

"It'll probably be a huge deal for the Waterford public in terms of perception," he admitted, "but we're happy to focus on the 25th of May now and look forward to our clash with Cork."

Roll on summer.


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