“So if you beat Kilkenny next month, it’s all on then Ger, isn’t it?”
The Dublin manager wasn’t about to make himself a hostage to fortune by answering that one with anything other than a chortle and a kick to touch.
“Looking beyond the 11th of June on Saturday the 21st of May? I don’t think so,” said Cunningham with a grin.
Still, if the question amounted to an invite to announce Dublin as genuine All-Ireland contenders, there was some substance to it given the ease with which they dismantled Wexford.
Wexford opened brightly in both halves but minus the talents of players like Lee Chin, Jack Guiney and Andrew Shore for various reasons, and having spent another spring in Division 1B, their flickering flame quickly petered out.
That wasn’t so much down to the incessant rain as the fact Dublin played with poise and purpose, and built on a solid defensive platform.
As pleasing as it was for Cunningham to see Eamonn Dillon and Niall McMorrow, two speedy forwards, transfer their league form to the Championship, the Cork legend will have been equally satisfied with the concession of just 12 points. Liam Rushe was excellent at the point of defence.
Dublin were in control after Dillon seized on a defensive error about 35m out and sped through Wexford’s rearguard for a trademark 17th-minute solo goal.
They had four first-half goal chances in all and Darragh O’Connell scored an inevitable second approaching half-time, giving them a 2-10 to 0-8 lead.
Dublin borrowed from Kilkenny by going for goals at every opportunity and look in a good position to give the Cats a serious test in Portlaoise though Cunningham, typically, played it cautious.
“It’s the ultimate challenge,” he said of facing the holders. “These guys have been champions for the guts of the last 10 or 12 years. There’s some of the aspects of our game which won’t be good enough to go to Portlaoise and to beat Kilkenny so there’s stuff we’ll have to work on.
Their strong start to the Championship has to be weighed up against Wexford’s tame challenge. Right now, this is not the Wexford side that set the Championship ablaze in 2014. Aside from Chin, Shore and Guiney — the latter heading off to America recently, according to Dunne — they could have done with David Redmond’s midfield industry or Kevin Foley’s rising star quality. Again, both were missing, Redmond through injury and Foley, a huge talent at U21 level, because he’s simply not able to give the commitment required.
Conor McDonald was their best player and the U21 attacker punched the air as much in delight as an effort to rally his colleagues when he put them 0-5 to 0-4 ahead.
But Dublin’s opening goal soon after had the effect of loading a 10-ton weight on the shoulders of the Wexford players. The Model men scored just seven points from then, three of those from placed balls, and Dunne has a job of work to lift them for the qualifiers. Dublin led by six points at the three quarter mark and added on another seven points without reply to win at their leisure.”
Losing manager Dunne struggled to explain the result: “When you look at a performance like that, to answer your question straight up, you’d have to say ‘no’. But there’s such a transition of players from this team in the last two or three years. It’s just phenomenal. It’s about getting a settled team for us, getting everyone back.
“You’ve Jack Guiney going over to America in the middle of last week and Kevin Foley with three U21 Leinster medals and he doesn’t want to hurl for Wexford at the minute. He just feels he can’t give the commitment. We can’t afford not to have everybody. It’s a tough one. People will say you’re not making progress but we are introducing young fellas all the time. They’re learning harsh lessons at the moment.”
D. Treacy (0-8, 7 frees, 1 65); N. McMorrow (0-4); E. Dillon, D. O’Connell (1-0 each); D. O’Callaghan, M. Schutte, J. McCaffrey, D. Plunkett, C. Bennett, R. O’Dwyer, P. Ryan (0-1 each).
C. McDonald (0-6, 4 frees); L. Og McGovern (0-4), E. Moore (1 65), H. Kehoe (0-1 each).
C. Dooley; E. O’Donnell, C. O’Callaghan, O. Gough; C. Crummey, L. Rushe (C), S. Barrett; D. O’Connell, J. McCaffrey; D. Plunkett, N. McMorrow, D. Treacy; D. O’Callaghan, M. Schutte, E. Dillon.
R. O’Dwyer for O’Connell (57); C. Bennett for Schutte (60); P. Schutte for McCaffrey (69); O. O’Rorke for O’Callaghan (70); P. Ryan for Dillon (71).
C. O’Leary; L. Ryan, M. O’Hanlon (C), E. Conroy; E. Moore, P. Foley, D. O’Keeffe; J. O’Connor, H. Kehoe; A. Kenny, P. Morris, D. Dunne; L. Og McGovern, C. McDonald, P. Doran.
C. Dunbar for Kenny (h/t); I. Byrne for Morris (47); E. Martin for Moore (66).
F Horgan (Tipperary).