Daly's Dubs on high ground in new territory
Leinster champions leading chase for All-Ireland success
FOR all the extraordinary drama, emotion and colour provided by two historic hurling matches last weekend, it took the hard-nosed verdict of the world's greatest pragmatists to bring people back to earth yesterday.
Dublin may be alive-alive-oh but the bookies still tip Kilkenny to retain their All-Ireland crown. The Cats were 11/2 before Saturday's redemptive scenes in Nowlan Park against Tipperary.
And despite the fact that Dublin added the Bob O'Keeffe Cup and Galway's scalp to their trophy cabinet the next day, Brian Cody's men are still priced at 11/8 compared to the Dubs' 3/1.
We argue that ranking should be reversed, with the obvious proviso that only an idiot would write off the Cats at this point, but what is beyond debate is that this summer's hurling landscape has changed over the last fortnight.
The Premier County got blown out the back door by Kilkenny's afterburners and Galway's lack of fire and bite when surrendering their Leinster title seriously lessened their chances and reputation. Next Sunday's Munster final will tell if Cork or Limerick can join the serious contenders.
The Dubs have pulled off a remarkable resurrection. At year's start they lost their fitness trainer, Tomas Brady and the best young dual hurlers in the county (Ciaran Kilkenny and Cormac Costello) to the footballers.
When they conceded four goals to Tipperary in the league semi-final after a heavy weekend of training in West Cork they appeared to be in trouble. After drawing with Wexford first day out they looked doomed.
Yet five games in five weeks have produced a Lazarus-like recovery and Anthony Daly's decision to turn Liam Rushe into a centre half-back and seek advice from ex-Tipp star Tommy Dunne now look like strokes of genius.
Dublin deserve top billing now because they beat Kilkenny in a replay and also dispensed with the other 2012 All-Ireland finalist. They are now Leinster champions and first through to the All-Ireland semi-finals. Simple as.
Ranking: 1st (odds 3/1)
Positives: The confidence, joy and sharpness they have found through a hectic match schedule.
Negatives: The wait to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Keeping their touch and momentum going until August 11 is Daly's next big challenge.
Injuries to marquee players and a lack of form from others left the greatest team in hurling history hanging over a precipice.
Their response against Tipp was truly magnificent. Eoin Larkin slotted 0-11 (10fs) but it was his selfless work-rate and playmaking when filling in for Michael Fennelly at midfield that earned him the man of the match award and their half-back line was also immense.
But if they hadn't played Tipperary, in Nowlan Park, would they have managed to dig out such an epic performance? The setting and opponents created their own hurling coliseum and Kilkenny's gladiators responded but, remember, Lar Corbett went off injured and Eoin Kelly missed 1-2 (including one free and one '65') at a pivotal stage.
Yes, Kilkenny eventually dominated Tipp's misfiring attack and Paul Murphy's return was even more pivotal than King Henry's cameo.
But much still hinges on Shefflin's return to match-fitness and likewise Michael Fennelly, whose performance, at centre-forward fired up their attack in the league final. They are not scoring like before and don't threaten goals which used to be their trademark.
Ranking: 2nd (11/8)
Positives: Several key players rediscovered their form last Saturday and they've additional motivation now to prove how hampering their injuries were against Dublin.
Negatives: Fitness worries and lack of firepower and leadership up front. Walter Walsh has provided some but a lot of their more experienced forwards need to rediscover their mojo.
Written off on all sides after getting relegated from the top division, Jimmy Barry-Murphy's young side defied their critics and a host of injuries by coming in cold and shocking Clare in the Munster semi-final.
They only lost to Tipp by a point last summer and still went all the way to the All-Ireland semi-finals. Winning a first Munster title since 2006 would be a huge fillip, as well as propelling them to the last four but Sunday will tell more.
Ranking: Joint 3rd (13/2)
Positives: Being written off and the return to fitness of Pa Cronin and Lorcan McLoughlin.
Negatives: The injury loss of their most experienced defender Brian Murphy and their lack of big-day experience.
They beat Cork in an epic extra-time Munster U-21 final two years so it's no surprise to see them finally making a breakthrough, even though they've been unable to break out of Division 1B for the last three years.
Limerick have the ability to score goals and also to come from behind, which they showed against Tipp, but judgment is reserved until Sunday.
Ranking: Joint 3rd (6/1)
Positives: A good blend of youth and experience, men who can get goals, a natural swagger and home advantage on Sunday.
Negatives: Can be naive and careless at times and haven't beaten Cork in Munster since 2001.
After beating Waterford, Clare's eight-point loss to Cork brought them back to earth but racking up 1-32 against Laois last week showed they're back on track, while avoiding Kilkenny in the draw favours them.
Ranking: 5th (9/1)
Positives: Their young legs are suited to a back-door run and they got a good draw. Two All-Ireland U-21 titles (2009/2012) means they're not afraid of anyone.
Negatives: Their decision-making is still a little naive which, married with their short-passing game, can result in terrible gaffes.
It's fight or flight now for a team whose stuttering form is a complete mystery. From the high of last year's first Leinster title and taking Kilkenny to the precipice in the All-Ireland final their form and reputation has dropped like a stone.
After losing the league semi-final to Kilkenny it was expected they would get back to form but they struggled to beat Laois and lost to Dublin by 12 points. A mountain to climb.
Ranking: 6th (13/2)
Positives: Already in the quarter-finals, expectations have never been lower and Joe Canning is still a colossus.
Negatives: Lack of form, forwards and fight and they could yet draw Kilkenny.
After losing to Clare by five points in Munster, they arguably deserve a higher ranking than Galway based on that and their subsequent victory over Offaly and notching up 3-22 against Westmeath but they get the Cats at the worst possible time.
Ranking: 7th (33/1)
Positives: If they can reproduce their first-half form against Clare they'll give Kilkenny a tough game.
Negatives: The toughest possible draw and a lack of ball-winners and firepower. Some forward outside of Maurice Shanahan needs to step up to the plate.
Liam Dunne's men were written off before the summer but can take great heart from taking Dublin to a replay. They took flak for being too physical that night and only scored 0-12 in the replay. They've since racked up big scores against Antrim (3-18) and Carlow (0-20) but they've also conceded big numbers.
Ranking: 8th (200/1)
Positives: Seeing Dublin's subsequent success after their draw with them can give them a lift.
Negatives: Two games against weaker teams is not ideal preparation and some of their best players have a Leinster U-21 final tomorrow night.