Colm O'Rourke: Dubs need to turn back clock after latest reality check
Pat Gilroy's side must restore the successful team ethic of last year, says Colm O'Rourke
It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said that "to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive". A lot of managers and players who are preparing for do-or-die games today might agree with this assessment.
With the winners this afternoon there will also be losers and relegation is an even bigger issue than promotion or qualification for the knock-out stages. Therefore those on the wrong side of results today would hardly agree with the Taoist view that the journey is the reward. That fits in neatly with their view that compassion and humility are the most important things in life but there are few managers who, having taken their side down a division, would get away with telling players, the county board and supporters that it was a great experience.
Many are looking for a win to turn around a string of results and maybe even a season. Dublin are hardly in that position but Mayo exposed some very worrying deficiencies in their game. The only good thing from Pat Gilroy's point of view is that there is plenty of time to change. What must be most worrying for him is that the things which set them apart are now coming back to haunt them. It is not about individuals particularly, but the tightness associated with them last year is fraying at the edges.
Dublin developed the team ethic to the maximum degree. Players with character all working for a purpose in a disciplined manner. The most obvious sign of indiscipline is associated with the number of yellow and red cards but that part is the easiest to sort out.
What is more worrying is the absence of the team ethic in tackling, covering for others, winning breaks and a thousand other parts of the game which are never going to get a player mentioned in the press but are central to the smooth functioning of every successful team. Against Mayo, Dublin played like a reasonably talented group of individuals who were individualists in nature. The highly organised system of defence did not function.
Another strong point with Dublin last year was that their midfield and half-forwards stopped defenders coming forward. This all changed last week too and Mayo players must have thought it was Christmas coming early as they have rarely enjoyed as much time on the ball.
This is not to be dismissive of Mayo who are assembling a very good team. They probably have a dozen who are as good as any other team in the country and last week's display is an indication of possibilities ahead.
Yet they only have to cast their minds back to the night the fog saved them. In that first half Dublin had Mayo by the throat and they were like the boxer, saved by the bell. Perhaps Dublin thought they would take up where they left off; if they did, they certainly ran into a sucker punch. Mayo are capable of this sort of performance regularly. Most Mayo supporters get worried about it and sense being built up for the big drop instead of driving on to even better performances.
This reality check for Dublin could not come at a better time. It also ensures that the vision for the team and players will now be more easily accepted. After an All- Ireland win, especially with the adulation Dublin received -- and sometimes from outside the county -- players would only be human if they felt they had an easier way of doing things.
For some the hunger is sated and they are finished at the top even if they don't want to admit it. One of Gilroy's great strengths over the last couple of years has been the ability to have a quiet word with players to either shape up or ship out, or alternatively giving them a jersey with a very high number.
So the warnings for Dublin have come at an opportune time and don't expect them to leak 20 points in any other game this year. The team will go back to the tried-and-trusted formula built on a solid defence and Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O'Gara will be needed in attack. And if an advertisement for new players is posted around Castleknock or Clontarf, there are a couple of young men who might answer the call.
Anyone who was in Navan for the Leinster under 21 final on Wednesday night had to be very impressed with Ciarán Kilkenny while most county teams would have Jack McCaffrey starting. It is hardly a state secret to mention Kilkenny after his displays for last year's minor hurlers and footballers, but I wanted to have a look at him.
Granted the marking was not that tight but his movement, and ability to kick great points off left and right made him look special. I think Dublin are right to leave him with the under 21s, at least for the time being, and it is a lesson for other counties in managing talent. Of course, few have the numbers Dublin can muster yet rushing players on to senior teams is short-sighted. Patience pays off in the end.
The other feature of Kilkenny's play which makes him look a real prospect was that he did not try to hog the show himself. A good family is important here to ensure a star is only a star on the field, but when he puts his legs under the dinner table his feet are kept firmly on terra firma. This young man had his head up and looked for other players even though their shooting was nothing like his. It means that when he does step up to senior he will be more difficult to mark. It is common enough for talented forwards at underage level to be easy to mark at senior as they don't appreciate moving the ball on quickly, but are always looking for their own score. Kilkenny looks like he will be more difficult to read.
Reports indicate he may be thinking of a professional career in Aussie Rules football. Good luck to him if he is, it is a brave decision to go this route. Of course there are many who will tell him there is nothing for him in this country and that fame and fortune awaits. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has health, hopefully happiness, a good education to look forward to, friends, family and two sports -- at least -- at which he excels.
And he will get a job too and could play for Dublin for a decade. How bad is that? Maybe the 225 million Taoists are right: compassion, moderation and humility are the most important human attributes. And the journey is the reward.
Sunday Indo Sport