Vincent Hogan: If Cody's men fall, the earth will shake
Dublin victory could spark monumental shift in the game
IN Portlaoise tonight, Dublin must do their duty and poke a wounded bear with a stick. Only God can save them now. The consensus seems to hold that this will be pretty much their last meaningful act in the championship, given that replays against Kilkenny have a name for damaging people.
Anthony Daly is like Jack Torrance then, reaching towards the door of room 237.
Never before has the entire hurling community so resembled a cinema audience peering through gaps in their fingers?
This season has been unspooling with a mad, roiling grin and it's clearly time for the cod liver oil now. The bookies have Kilkenny at 1/8 to overcome this evening's inconvenience and go bounding into their ninth consecutive Leinster final and 15th in total under Brian Cody.
Dublin had their opportunity last weekend. Now it's time to run.
But what if Kilkenny truly are in trouble? What if all that smoke billowing from the efforts of their forwards last week was evidence of a terminal weakening in resolve? What if the miles on the clock have finally begun to tell?
It seems unthinkable that, this day week, Cody and Eamon O'Shea could be back on the line in Nowlan Park, just nine weeks after their Allianz League final meeting, both now scrambling just to stay in championship steerage.
If that happens, hurling truly will have entered a new orbit. Because, until now, all those shell-bursts of uprising have been vaguely superficial.
Limerick cutting Tipperary down to size in the Gaelic Grounds has never, in the minds of Tipp supporters at least, qualified as an earthquake. Cork reaching a Munster final? Hardly.
Maybe Laois rising from their recent history of hidings to rattle Galway shook a little dust from the walls, but until and unless Kilkenny are on the floor in front of us, this championship will still feel routed to a familiar place.
A game with Tipp seven days from now would, most likely, be the very last path to convalescence Cody would choose for his team should they fall on their swords in Portlaoise. But that's the consequence of losing here.
The last time Kilkenny stitched three mediocre championship performances together was probably some time back in that distant tumult of '04 and '05 when Cork had rewritten everything and Cody was, supposedly, as obsolete as a 10 shilling note.
With what they've achieved since, the men in stripes ceased almost to be human in our eyes. After all, only Tipp's All-Ireland victory of three years ago interrupted a cycle that might otherwise have Cody and his team setting off in pursuit of eight-in-a-row now.
There were Mass cards tossed their way, of course, after the league decider of 2011 and last year's Leinster final, too. But each time Kilkenny would toss them back from a September homecoming plinth. Psychologically they were bomb-proof.
The thrill is in the question. Conceding four goals to an Offaly team that was easily swatted aside by Waterford last weekend and then tumbling frantically into lifeboats against a Dublin team that hasn't summoned what Anthony Daly would consider a compelling performance in two years, suggests some kind of unraveling.
Cody's health issues deprived them of his guidance for two months and the ongoing absence of Henry Shefflin particularly compromises their capacity for on-field crisis management.
This year's captain, Colin Fennelly, has lost his place in the starting 15 and others like Eoin Larkin and Richie Power just haven't been themselves.
Micheal Rice and TJ Reid are only back from long-term injury, while Michael Fennelly still sits in rehab with King Henry.
So, Dublin will understand the possibilities here. Daly's liking for a seventh defender has given Kilkenny migraine before, but, this time, they need to do more than that. This time, they must be brave enough to go for the jugular of that wounded bear.
Chances are, in doing so, they could be badly mauled, of course, and the only one to gain will be Anthony Cunningham, whose Galway will thus be forewarned for next weekend's provincial final.
But then there's also that narrow beam of light promising the greatest scalp in hurling, for Kilkenny haven't looked this vulnerable in some time.
Tonight, then, could signal a monumental shift in the old game or it might just leave more innocent blood on the walls.
Mops at the ready.