The downward trend of Dublin football showed no signs of decelerating on Saturday night, as they fell to a comfortable defeat to last year's All-Ireland's finalists Mayo.
The writing is now on the wall for Dublin, who face a huge challenge to avoid relegation to division two of the league for 2023.
Dublin v Mayo: Writing on the wall for Dublin after decisive loss
Dublin lost their opening game of the 2022 league at Croke Park to Armagh in January. When they took a first-half beating in their second outing away to Kerry, alarm bells were ringing in the capital. After a third successive loss on Saturday at Croker, the Dubs are in serious trouble.
Dublin now sit rooted to the bottom of the division one table after three games, with trips to Kildare, Tyrone, and Monaghan still to come, as well as the visit of Donegal to Croke Park.
The pillars of recent Dublin success were nowhere to be seen on Saturday. They were wasteful in possession, allowed Mayo to control the tempo and play, failed to put adequate pressure on Mayo off the ball, and kicked an incredible nine wides.
Is Mayo beating the Dubs in Croker about to become the new norm? #DUBvMAY pic.twitter.com/qxAcM5Rtq0
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) February 19, 2022
Dublin could not even call on an excuse of an inexperienced team lining out against the Westerners. Niall Scully, Dean Rock, John Small, Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny, and Brian Howard all started in Croke Park, and Fenton and Scully in particular looked like shadows of the players who were such essential cogs of the "Drive for Five".
The statistics are damning for Dublin. Mayo beat them in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, Dublin's first defeat in the championship since 2014. Saturday brought a second defeat to Mayo in just six months. It was the first time Mayo have won a league game in Dublin since 1971. For the first time in over 20 years, Dublin have lost three consecutive league games.
Any one of those stats would be worrying, but could be chalked off as an anomaly. When all three have arrived in the space of just over six months, they appear to signify a worrying trend.
The temptation for Dublin will be to chalk this off to early-season lethargy and slugishness. But the trend is beginning to settle in. Croke Park no longer brings a fear factor for the likes of Mayo, and Dublin are no longer the favourites to claim Sam Maguire come September.
On RTÉ, Colm O'Rourke said:
When Dublin were winning All-Irelands, they would often have less than six wides. That was the benchmark they set.
Now they're 10, 12, 14. 14 against Armagh. Sean Bugler and Niall Scully not nearly as accurate as Dublin players of the past. If you took Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton off the Dublin team tonight, they'd look a right mess. Things aren't going to get any better.
It must be difficult for them in a dressing room looking room and saying, 'what's going on? We used to win every game easy.' The real test is going to come.
Sean Cavanagh pointed out that Mayo had as many crucial players missing on Saturday as Dublin did, and yet they rose to the occasion in a manner the Dubs could only dream of.
"I'm laughing at the use of the word 'crisis' there"
Noelle Healy believes there is no reason for Dublin to panic despite their latest #Allianzleagues defeat #RTEGAA #DUBvMAYO pic.twitter.com/2KCAXZycMD
— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) February 19, 2022
We've been here before. Stuttering starts for Dublin in the league have often led to dominant championship campaigns. RTÉ's Noelle Healy said as much post-match, with the former Dublin player saying she was not panicking just yet.
I'm laughing at the use of the word "crisis". I think from a Dublin point of view, the way they defended in the first-half was a bit of a positive. All you wanted out of them was a little bit more energy. In the Kerry and Armagh games they looked really lacklustre.
There was a lot more intensity tonight. That was more of a positive. Their link play, the shots that are being put together - you need to see them click a little bit, when you see ten years with the same players together, they knew all the balls they wanted to come in, the runs off the shoulder. It was done, almost, without a second thought.
There probably is a little bit of frustration for those players that they're not playing in the system they're used to, getting those players up to scratch. Games like that where they're under pressure might stand to them in the long run. I don't think there's a crisis just yet, I wouldn't panic.
Given how well-oiled a machine Dublin have been over the past decade, it is indeed hard to imagine the side panicking as a result of the performances of recent weeks.
That being said, the side has not played well since last year's league, and the likes of Kerry and even Meath who came close to claiming the scalp of the Dubs in recent years will feel confident going into the 2022 championship.
What was it Bob Dylan once sang? The times, they certainly are-a-changin'...