Drawing too many big conclusions from the 2020 Allianz Hurling League is probably unwise. 

While the football league - new subtitle 'Best competition in the GAA' - hogs all the headlines, the hurling league is pottering along at a leisurely pace.

In the football, there's much heady talk that teams, especially those down the pecking order, are now using league performance as their yardstick for what constitutes a good season. Reading recent commentary, you get the impression that the football championship is fairly passé these days. That craic is only for normies and boomers as they put it on the Twitter machine. 

Not so in the hurling. In hurling, that old mantra still holds sway - League is league.

There's a lot of truth in that. League is indeed league.  

Any attempt to defend a season's work on the basis of one's healthy league form will be met with those three brutal words, two of them the same - League. Is. League.

Of course, the Championship is also a league now which may have complicated things but that's probably a discussion for another day.

(One wag in here, namely me, has said the league should react to the championship stealing its USP by re-branding as a knockout, whilst retaining the name 'National League'. This would have the great benefit of confusing the admittedly small foreign market. It'd be our version of the English practice of calling what are clearly private schools, 'public schools'.)

And the league is even lower stakes this year thanks to its latest re-structure, there having been much disquiet that 1B teams, under the 2014-18 system, were getting it a bit too easy. It should have become apparent to all, after seeing the identity of the 2017 and 2018 All-Ireland champions, that scrapping like dogs in the spring to avoid falling into Division 1B was probably not the wisest use of one's energy.

Danny Sutcliffe in action against Kilkenny in the Allianz League

That issue has been solved now by jumbling up the leagues, 'A' no longer occupying a higher rung than 'B'.

There's no question that it renders the whole thing a bit less cut-throat. 

So, divining too much from what goes on in the hurling league is probably a mug's game. 

But what have we learned?

Well, Limerick are looking formidable, intent on showing that last year's All-Ireland semi-final loss was a rare blip. 

Kilkenny hurling, as Colin Fennelly trumpeted after the club finals, appears to be on the way back after the shortest famine in history.

Galway, despite the usual steady stream of underage success, are still trying to find younger players capable of picking up the slack from the older crew. 

Waterford, without a Championship win since the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final, are demonstrating signs of life under new manager Liam Cahill, though it should be remembered that their league form last year proved ultimately misleading. 

And then there's the Dubs. 

Dublin's strikingly abject loss to Kilkenny sparked some concern they were about to inherit the mantle of the sick man of hurling. 

Brian Cody's team were missing more of their front-rank stars than Dublin and would play most of the game with 14 men, following Richie Leahy's deserved sending off in the 26th minute. 

And they still ran out alarmingly easy winners, on a scoreline of 3-21 to 0-18.

'14-man Kilkenny easily keep tame Dublin at bay' was the headline from the match report on this website.

"Tame" is an especially scathing adjective. 

Former Dublin hurler Ryan O'Dwyer, veteran of the glory years earlier in the decade, didn't enjoy watching the game from his perch in Nowlan Park.

"After the game, I was very disappointed. And during the game, I was very disappointed," he told RTÉ Sport. 

"I saw it as an opportunity for Dublin to set down a marker for the year. Kilkenny were missing an awful lot of players. They were almost missing a team of starters. The Ballyhale lads were gone, Paul Murphy was 'out foreign'.  

"So after that game, I did buy into the doom and gloom and nearly added to the doom and gloom, the way I was talking about it. But they responded well against Laois."

Ronan Hayes in action against Laois

The following week, Dublin did eventually see off Laois in Parnell Park, a game which sparked memories of their humbling in last year's All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final. 

That fixture was widely derided as a sop to the Joe McDonagh counties, a formality simply designed to ward off complaints that they'd been excluded from the Liam MacCarthy race. 

Laois turned the narrative on its head with a historically memorable win, one to rank alongside Antrim's victory over Offaly in the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final.

Dublin were the fall guys in that heartwarming tale.  

Whether complacency or an abnormally above par performance from Laois was at the root of that result, O'Dwyer recalls feeling a nagging sense of foreboding watching the Dublin players celebrating on the Parnell Park pitch after the win over Galway - "I saw the players were leading the cheers 'C'mon you boys in blue' on the pitch after the game and I said, 'lads, you've nothing won yet.'"

The result evoked memories of a bygone era for longer-in-the-tooth Dublin hurling stalwarts. 

It's over 18 years since Dublin unveiled their blueprint for the county's hurling revival, chaired by ex-manager Michael O'Grady.  

The document set the rather ambitious target that Dublin would win at least one All-Ireland title by 2008.

Judged on that basis, the programme would have to be judged a complete failure. 

The hurlers, and their supposed shortcomings, are now frequently deployed as a rejoinder to the idea that money has been central to Dublin's football success. (For football exclusivists with no love for the small-ball game, that seems to be the main purpose of the Dublin hurling team these days). 

This is all desperately unfair. It's easy to forget the extent to which the Dublin hurlers really were full blown minnows in the late early-to-mid noughties. 

As late as 15 years ago, Dublin losing to Laois in the championship was considered no big deal. Laois banished the Dubs from the Leinster championship in 2001 and 2005, the latter after a 12-point win. Westmeath beat them by two points in the 2006 championship. Offaly, already on the slide by then, administered a double-digit defeat in 2004. 

They had been a very, very long time living in the shadows at that stage. They were the 'and finally...' game for their one appearance a year on the Sunday Game highlights show. 

Anthony Daly celebrates with John Costello after the 2013 Leinster final 

Their ascension in the past decade shouldn't be under-played. Historically, it's a rare enough event in hurling for a team to move from the second tier to the top tier and stay there.

Galway in the mid-1970s achieved it, Offaly did so at the beginning of the 1980s but they, in recent years, have fallen off the face of the earth. 

Under Anthony Daly, the Dubs won a National League in 2011, they finally reclaimed the Leinster championship in 2013, bridging a 52-year-gap amid emotional scenes in Croke Park. 

With Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway out of sorts that season, Dublin could easily have won the All-Ireland that year but for a couple of cruel stabs of luck in the All-Ireland semi-final against a not especially distinguished Cork team. 

It seemed highly possible they were on the brink of an All-Ireland breakthrough. However, stagnation has followed and they haven't got close to an All-Ireland since. 

The sense of upward momentum has drifted away from Dublin. The underage performances, while far from disastrous, are slightly patchier than they were at the turn of the last decade. 

Most demoralising of all for the Dublin hurling romantics is the sense that their underage efforts are largely in vain. By the time they reach adulthood, their finest hurlers have understandably had their heads turned by the glamorous, unstoppable football machine. 

Cormac Costello lit up the 2012 minor hurling championship. He scored 4-02 as they ran riot against Waterford in the semi-final and took home the Man of the Match award after the drawn final against Tipperary. He's never seen a second of action for the senior hurlers. 

Even the Cuala odyssey - perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the rise and popularisation of hurling in Dublin ("when I was a young person in Dalkey, only mad fellas played hurling," David McWilliams observed once. "Now, they're double All-Ireland champions") - offers a big 'what-might-have-been' for Dublin hurling supporters. 

Con O'Callaghan's performances for Cuala have seen him described as "the best hurler in Ireland" by Tommy Walsh. The thought of what O'Callaghan might do for the Dublin hurlers is a tantalising one.

It's not in the nature of players to dwell on these absences and O'Dwyer confirms that the playing staff, immersed in their own game and doing their best for their group, never mention what might have been,

"The lads who are there don't say 'if only we had Con, if only we had Ciaran Kilkenny, if only we had Diarmuid Connolly'. There's none of that. 

"They look at the team they have and say this what we have. This is Dublin. This is our team. It was certainly never an issue when I was there and I don't think it is now."

Con O'Callaghan in action for Cuala

With games against Carlow and Wexford coming up in the next eight days, Dublin have players to return. Liam Rushe, Shane Barrett, David Treacy, Fintan McGibb and Paul Ryan are all due back. 

O'Dwyer feels they have the hurling but need to add greater intensity and animal aggression into the mix.

However, he allows that could come later in the year and reminds us that 2013 - Dublin hurling's greatest year in the past half-century - was not looking particularly promising at one early stage.  

It's not yet time to panic. League is league, after all.   

"Are they building a team? Are they building a good philosophy there? I think they are. I think Mattie Kenny is the right man in there to do that. Is the standard getting better? I think it is.

"But - and I don't know is it the hurling - there's something lacking. I don't know is it the six inches between their ears. Bringing it back to the Kilkenny game, they just seemed to be very rigid.

"At the end of the day, you don't need to be a good hurler to chase down and block down someone. You don't need to be a good hurler to hook and block. 

"I saw the hurling against Kilkenny in spurts. But I didn't see the drive, the raw aggression.

"Maybe I might later in the year. I don't know what training is like at the moment. Are they going hard to peak later in the year? That's something I can't answer.

"But there's something lacking there at the moment. But if they can click, the whole season can change.

"People say we were successful in 2013. But we could have been beaten by Wexford in the first round. It went to a replay.

"We won the replay and it was just momentum built after that. But it all turned on an Eamonn Dillon goal against Wexford."