Gavin’s Top Dogs Could Become Cats Of Football
AS the ‘Batman’ cartoonist might scrawl for dramatic effect, KAPOW! A once-deadly enemy has been walloped into the middle of next week, leaving him pulverised and with his head still spinning as he prepares to walk straight into an Armagh ambush.
Enough about the reeling Royals. Sunday was all about Dublin … and it was all so wonderfully note-perfect until the grim spectre of ‘Bitegate III – Allegedly’ rained on their provincial parade.
That unwanted sub-plot aside, this was a day of numerous positives and barely any negatives for Jim Gavin.
With another 16-point flourish, Dublin’s decade of dominance is complete: nine out of ten provincial titles, a record unmatched by anyone in the eastern province dating back to 1888, when the first Leinster football title went to … wait for it … Kilkenny!
That, in a nutshell, is what Dublin have become – Leinster’s big-ball equivalent of the Kilkenny hurlers. Between 1998 and 2011, 13 Leinster SHC titles were amassed, and no one (bar Wexford in 2004) could lay a glove on them. Now the same applies to the footballers of Dublin; even the one rival who traditionally never feared that Sky Blue jersey has been broken.
Moreover, there’s a world of difference between Pillar Caffrey’s Dublin (who launched this glorious epoch) and what they have become under Pat Gilroy and more especially Gavin: they are now threatening to translate their dominance onto the national stage. It’s early days, mind you: they have won two of the last three All-Irelands, paling by comparison to Brian Cody’s nine between 1999 and 2012. But the juggernaut is gaining speed. Here’s how …
INTENSITY: It’s the age-old charge levelled at All-Ireland holders, that they can’t emulate the hunger, drive, application, etc, that set them apart the summer before. There were even sporadic hints – at times during the league, and during the first half against Laois and Wexford – that Dublin might struggle in the appetite department once the bar was raised. Based on Sunday’s evidence, the charge won’t stick. Their tackling was demonic and yet disciplined, all over the pitch.
CONFIDENCE: Tom Carr was quoted last week about the altered relationship between Dublin and Meath compared to his own playing and managerial days in the capital. The fact that Dublin are now monopolising Leinster, and beating Meath virtually every time they play, had given the current crop “huge confidence, a superiority complex – the players go in thinking that there’s no good reason why they can’t beat Meath”.
On Sunday, their sky-high confidence was evident from the off; but even in those matches where Dublin are slow out of the blocks, you rarely get a sense that this inner belief is any way brittle. Dublin don’t do panic; they just plough on regardless.
DEFENCE: This has always been identified as their potential Achilles heel, partly because of how they’re set up, with such an onus on attack, and partly because Gavin doesn’t have remotely the same luxury of options in defence as he does in attack.
Already this summer he has been forced to plan without last year’s centre-back, Ger Brennan, and last Sunday he had to make do without his standout defender this season, Jonny Cooper. What happens? His replacement, Mick Fitzsimons, does such a wonderfully adhesive marking job on Meath’s attacking talisman, Stephen Bray, that he makes RTÉ’s three-man shortlist for ‘Man of the Match’.
This was Fitzsimons’ best outing in blue since 2011, but he wasn’t the only back to shine: take a bow Rory O’Carroll, James McCarthy and the recalled Jack McCaffrey. As a unit, they’re gradually getting stickier: they conceded 0-16 against Laois, 1-12 against Wexford and 1-10 against Meath.
INDIVIDUAL AUGURIES: For once, Dublin’s bench wasn’t required for heavy lifting because the starting 15 had already sealed the deal. Which brings us to Kevin McManamon, who, if he keeps this up, is in mortal danger of losing his ‘impact sub’ moniker.
This wasn’t the only positive portent, either. Alan Brogan’s sharp footballing brain was never in doubt but we may have wondered if he still had the legs at 32, coming back after 18 months of injury torture. Still wondering? As for more short-term injury issues, his brother Bernard looked in pretty good nick too.
AND THE NEGATIVES
1 No more safety nets as they enter the graveyard of defending champions, the All-Ireland series.
2 They’ve won Leinster by 43 points. Are they steeled for the type of all-out, in-your-face, defensive challenge liable to be posed by Donegal in an All-Ireland semi-final – or even Monaghan, if they can bounce back against Kildare to reach the last-eight?
3 That incident. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Sunday’s late flashpoint prompting a biting allegation from Meath, these are exactly the type of distractions that all camps could do without just as All-Ireland goals come sharply into focus.(The Herald)