Five weeks ago, Dublin were in the doldrums, in the all too familiar position of inexplicably failing to perform in a big game.
Galway had outclassed Ger Cunningham’s side in Tullamore, and they were left facing into the qualifiers, where the Boys in Blue have enjoyed little success in the past.
In fact, since the introduction of the qualifier system in 2002, Dublin have taken that route nine times, failing to emerge to the All-Ireland quarter-finals on all nine occasions.
With a 75% chance of being seeded against a Munster side in the first round, things were looking bleak for the summer of 2015. Some impressive performances in the league offered little hope. Dublin were flattering to deceive on the big stage once again.
Cunningham, to his credit, decided that something drastic needed to be done. The side who took to the field against Laois and Limerick is completely different to that which fell to Galway. Any suggestion of unrest in the camp following Michael Carton’s departure have been put to bed if the post-match celebrations are anything to go by.
The addition of Shane Barrett and Cian Boland has added an edge to this side, while the benefits of a return to form by Paul Ryan are clear. This Metropolitans are now a real threat. One day it was Mark Schutte who did the damage, next it was Ryan. Who should the Waterford backs keep an eye on? It could be Dotsy O’Callaghan, David Treacy, or Niall McMorrow. The Dubs have some real weapons at their disposal.
If Dublin are to have a chance of upsetting the Déise in the quarter-final, they will need Peter Kelly back at full fitness. The Lucan Sarsfields man has marshaled the Dublin full-back line at recent seasons, and was badly missed in Tullamore.
Liam Rushe’s return to centre-back was a complete success, with the former All-Star earning the Man of The Match award against the Treaty. With Rushe and Kelly at 6 and 3, the Dubs will be tough to break down, and can get back a level of hurling last seen in 2013.
Another change which has slipped under the radar has been the return of Gary Maguire to the side. Maguire was the All-Star goalkeeper in 2013, but missed 2014 due to injury. Upon his return, Alan Nolan had been nominated for an all-star himself, and kept the number 1 jersey this Spring. Maguire returned for the Laois game and has performed almost perfectly since.
Waterford are next up on Sunday week, with few giving the Dubs a chance. All the media talk has been about how Limerick should have won the game. With Dublin rated 25/1 by bookmakers to win the All-Ireland, Cunningham and co. will be delighted to enter the tie with such little expectation.
However, a quiet sense of optimism will be hanging around Parnell Park this week. Waterford’s ‘system’ has won them a league title, and in truth, could have won them a Munster title were it not for some wayward shooting by their forwards. The ‘system’ stops teams from getting near the goal and putting bodies in the way. It is said that goals win games, and this side are set up to prevent leaking them.
But Dublin are a side who do not score many goals. Playing against Waterford will not be different to any other side. They will not have to drastically adapt to take on ‘the system’. A win against the Déise is very much achievable, and by playing their own game and tacking on points, the Dubs can have the measure of Waterford.
Ger Cunningham and Dublin have proved their doubters wrong since the Tullamore capitulation, and are growing in confidence game by game. They are far from the finished article, but with so few giving them a chance of beating Waterford, let alone going any further, they could be real dark horses at this stage of the championship.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena