For much of the winter this looked like a coruscating start to the championship proper. Dublin v Offaly in the claustrophobic surrounds of Parnell Park. A crucial year three for the Anthony Daly project put to an early test against an Offaly side that nearly spoiled Galway's party last summer. Even shortly after Dublin's sensational league final victory the match, now transferred to Croke Park, looked exceedingly trappy for Dublin as a result of their injury travails in defence.
Sadly Offaly's own treatment room, a large reason for their spring relegation, has only become more populated in recent weeks. The absences of David Franks and Brendan Murphy were soon to become permanent in any case due to old father time. Joe Brady and Paul Cleary are stout and physical but ultimately limited yeomen. But it is the absence of James Rigney and latterly Rory Hanninfy that are truly calamitous. They are two of the more under-appreciated operators in inter-county hurling and their non appearance the Faithful half back line appears fatal. Against a battering ram of a Metropolitan half forward line Offaly seem woefully callow especially if they elect not to take David Kenny out of full back. There's also whispers that Brian Carroll isn't fully fit. Even when Offaly were bestride hurling in the 80's and 90's they struggled to have a cohort of 19/20 inter county performers.
Conversely Dublin's defence shorn Brady, Hiney and Boland doesn't look to be creaking at the hinges. The exclusion of Oisin Gough for the league final appeared curious in any case. If Boland will be missed he hasn't necessarily shown himself to be an out and out centre back at this exalted level as yet. Dublin's depth may of course be put to a certain test. Joe Bergin has the ability to sorely test Peter Kelly or John McCaffrey in the central areas if he gets out of bed on the right side. Derek Molly and Shane Dooley are also capable of pyrotechnics. But Offaly would have been tested to match Dublin's athleticism and physicality with a full hand. Cliches that they always being capable of an ambush don't quite ring true to the same extent as Cork, given that memories of prodigious feats are now becoming dimmer. Hopefully the wagons will be defiantly circled and the midlanders, closer to fuller strength, will come roaring back in the qualifiers. As it is it may only be a Dublin down day, sandwiched between the league final and Galway that may keep matters close on Sunday.