Ger Cunningham's new-look Dublin demolish Tipperary
Dublin 2-20 Tipperary0-14 (Allianz HL Div 1A)
There was no point trying to excuse a dismal day for Tipperary and Eamon O'Shea didn't try.
"It was a bad performance. We were beaten by a team that wanted to win the ball more than we did. I'd have no excuses. We were second to the ball and the opposition were hungrier," he said.
It was an apt summation of a game that left new Dublin manager Ger Cunningham smiling contentedly after a smooth take-off to the league season but the question still remains: why were Tipperary, who started with ten of last year's All-Ireland final side, so flat?
They led by 0-2 to 0-1 after an opening 10 minutes where it appeared the sides were sizing each other up, prior to raising the tempo. But when the surge came, it was from Dublin only as they took control of all the key battlegrounds around Parnell Park.
They outscored Tipperary by 1-10 to 0-3 between the 11th minute and half-time to lead by nine points (1-11 to 0-5) at the break. Tipperary had managed only two points from open play and were looking very much like a side that was still thinking in closed-season terms.
Dublin, in contrast, had a near-championship look about them, whipping into every challenge with ferocious intent. They played intelligently too, picking out colleagues with snappy deliveries.
It was entertaining to watch and, even more significantly, presented Tipperary with a puzzle they never came close to solving.
"We tried to bring the lessons from the loss to Galway (Walsh Cup final) into today's game and we managed that to a fair extent. That was pleasing," said Cunningham.
His realignments worked well too. Liam Rushe may take time to adjust to his new role at full-forward, but he's well equipped to manage it. He scored 1-1, the goal coming in the closing seconds of a win that not only yielded two precious league points but also provided an early boost to Dublin's scoring difference.
And since 1A is likely to be extremely tight, every little break will be important before the final conclusions are reached in late March.
Relocating Rushe to the attack is only one part of Cunningham's work-in-progress package. He has also reshaped the defence, siting Michael Carton at full-back, with Peter Kelly locking the outer line from No 6.
Both did very well yesterday but it was the switch of Conal Keaney from wing-forward to wing-back that proved more influential of all. He produced an excellent display in his new surrounds, growing in authority as the game progressed.
"He's a very good hurler and has no problem adapting to the new positions we're trying. We've moved a few others around too to see if we can develop the team. It's all about getting the balance right," said Cunningham.
It certainly looked good yesterday, but then Tipperary did little to upset it. Only John O'Dwyer came close to reaching the peaks of last autumn but he got little support in an attack that found the physicality of the Dublin defence too much to handle
To add to the their woes, Seamus Callanan, who was on target with two early long-range frees, lost his compass later on, missing four good opportunities.
In contrast, Paul Ryan was reliable from placed balls for Dublin. They led by three points at the end of the first quarter, before Rushe played Eamonn Dillon in for their first goal in 18th minute.
On another occasion, it might have prompted a stern reaction from Tipperary but not this time. With the exception of a spell early in the final quarter, when they scored four unanswered points to cut the margin to seven points (1-16 to 0-12), they were second to Dublin all the important facets. That four-point burst raised hopes among their supporters, but it was short-lived.
Dublin rebooted for a strong finish and outscored the visitors by 1-4 to 0-2 over the final 10 minutes.
"It's a great start to the season. It gives us a big base to build on. But the ultimate challenge comes next week going down to Nowlan Park. We all saw what Kilkenny did last night," said Cunningham.
Nonetheless, Dublin will travel to Kilkenny in a very positive frame of mind. Physically, they are well-tuned for this time of year and are obviously enjoying themselves under the new managerial regime.
Cunningham believes that it's vital for Dublin to make the most of their home games, a process that began most emphatically yesterday.
"We're trying to build a fortress here. Hopefully this has sent out a message to the Dublin supporters to come and back the team," he said.
Tipperary will have their first 'home' game next Sunday when they host Galway in Thurles, an outing that has become a whole lot more important after yesterday's setback.
Indeed, there were times when Tipperary looked very much like the disjointed unit that lost three of their first four league games last year, before turning the season around.
"It's a competitive league. Any time you lose a game, you're under pressure. Dublin played really good hurling and we were the opposite. There's no point in saying anything different - you have to be realistic," said O'Shea
Man of the Match: Conal Keaney
Scorers - Dublin: P Ryan 0-8 (4fs, 1'65'), E Dillon 1-2, L Rushe 1-1, D Sutcliffe, M Schutte 0-2 each, C Cronin, C Crummey, R O'Dwyer, S Durkin, C Boland 0-1 each. Tipperary: J O'Dwyer 0-6 (1f), S Callanan 0-4 (3fs), J Woodlock, J Forde (f), S McGrath, C O'Brien.
Dublin - A Nolan 7 ; C O'Callaghan 7, M Carton 8, P Schutte 7; C Crummey 7, P Kelly 7, C Keaney 9; D Sutcliffe 8, S Durkin 8; R O'Carroll 6, E Dillon 8, C Cronin 7; P Ryan 8, L Rushe 7, M Schutte 7. Subs: R O'Dwyer 6 for O'Carroll (14), C Boland 7 for O'Dwyer (58), B Quinn 6 for Cronin (61), D O'Callaghan for Ryan (65), J McCaffrey for Durkin (68).
Tipperary- D Gleeson 6; Joe O'Dwyer 6, P Curran 6, C Barrett 6; K Bergin 6, C O'Mahony 6, Padraic Maher 7; S McGrath 5, J Woodlock 5; B Maher 5,J Forde 5, D Maher 5;John O'Dwyer 8, S Callanan 5, G Ryan 5. Subs: R Maher 6 for D Maher (h-t), T Stapleton 6 for McGrath (h-t), C Kenny (6) for Ryan (45), C O'Brien (6) for O'Mahony (52).
Ref - B Kelly (Westmeath