THERE was much to admire in the way Dublin hurlers handled the challenge put their way yesterday.
For an emerging side like Dublin, days like yesterday are all about getting through: they will have known that far from fearing the newly-crowned league champions, Offaly would have relished the opportunity to test their mettle.
It will take a few more years yet before Offaly go into matches against Dublin believing they don’t have a chance.
This was Dublin’s valley game after the high of the league final. And no matter how much you guard against the shock, or how often people talk about avoiding the banana skin, there is always the danger you will struggle to match the hunger of your scalp-seeking opponents.
Events before half-time meant Dublin’s character would be questioned, as would their ability to remain clear-headed in the chaos of championship hurling.
The team has not passed those tests all that often in recent years and there must have been times yesterday when Anthony Daly wondered about the extent of real progress made this spring. The answers he received seem to confirm Dublin have reached a new plateau.
Those wild bouts of inconsistency conquered, they are now ready for an assault on the next peak.
Yesterday was a swallow, not a summer, but it could have been a lot worse: if Dublin had not reasserted themselves after the break, Offaly might have been able to press on and win the match.
Ultimately, though, it was a chilling weekend for Offaly GAA. Their footballers didn’t so much fall, as tumble headlong, out of the Leinster football championship at the hands of Wexford.
And for all that the hurlers did show some of the old Offaly-is-never-bet resistance yesterday, there is no avoiding the reality that Dublin have now passed them out in the Leinster pecking order and we see nothing to suggest this trend will be reversed in the near future.
To be out of the provincial championship before the end of May is a difficult reality for most counties. It’s a long road from here to anywhere of note, particularly with the qualifiers losing much of their lustre of a decade ago.
And it’s not as if any Offaly hurler or footballer will wake up this morning still nursing hopes of winning an All-Ireland this year.
For Cork hurlers, it is a vastly different scenario. They may not be All-Ireland contenders this season, but they might be in 2012 and so the value of a prolonged run this year can’t be overstated.
Denis Walsh is finally putting his stamp on the team, even if the lateness of the hour at which Cathal Naughton was introduced yesterday was baffling. Tipperary are operating at a higher level and were able to deal with Cork’s wholehearted endeavours yesterday, but the Rebels need not be discouraged.
Plus we have no doubt Walsh didn’t set his team up for an all-or-nothing effort yesterday. In the build-up, he will have contemplated the possibility of defeat and approached the game in such a way that his team can segue into the qualifiers without feeling the legs have been taken from under them.
Offaly may not trouble the qualifiers too long — in either code — and already will be thinking about the club championships. But Cork have reason to remain optimistic and will be formidable opponents for whoever strays onto their path in the weeks ahead.
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