We still haven't realised our full potential – Gavin
IN the past, that great intangible 'hype' was put forward as to why the Dublin footballers' season might derail.
Unrealistic expectations would build around the GAA's showtime team like nobody else. The Dubs were there to be shot at and teams took no greater pleasure than lowering their colours.
Given how impressive they have been this year, this week has been strangely muted so far. The success of the Dublin hurlers has distracted the county's sporting public to the point where even a date with old foes Meath hasn't stirred the blood as it might have in the past.
The expectation surrounding Jim Gavin's team has gone beyond beating the Royals and winning a Leinster title. Meath have acknowledged as much and at their press briefing last week, the Dubs were regularly referred to as the front-runners for Sam Maguire.
Considering their performances this year, that seems reasonable and Gavin delivered the chilling assessment that his side can be even better than they were in their 16-point demolition job of Kildare.
"Growing up in that environment in Dublin there is always expectation and talk of the potential of teams," Gavin said. "But that is all it is, even the last day we still haven't realised our potential.
"There are lots of areas for improvement. We are always looking to get consistency of performance and over the 70 minutes against Kildare that wasn't there."
Gavin and Meath manager Mick O'Dowd have seen their paths cross before. They were on opposing sides in the 2001 Leinster final when both were unused substitutes and Meath emerged winners despite, typically, living off limited possession.
O'Dowd was unlucky to come on the scene when the Royals were regularly in All-Ireland shake-ups. Quickly he marked himself out as coach of some worth, leading his club Skyrne to a county title as player-manager.
Gavin hung on for another year before Tommy Lyons called time on his playing days with Dublin in 2002. The following season he was already coaching the county's U-21s.
"I never really thought about it when I played. It was only when Tommy Lyons pulled the bridge up in 2002 and asked myself and Declan Darcy to get involved with the U-21s in 2003. Both of us had given a lot to Gaelic football over the years and there was a sense that we wanted to give something back to the games.
"Coaching in some regards is like teaching. My mother's a teacher. In the Air Corps I was an instructor so there's a teaching element to that as well so you always had that in oneself to give something back to the game."
Gavin has fonder memories of 1995, when Dublin completely dismantled the Royals on their way to the All-Ireland success. Meath overturned that result a year later.
As U-21 manager, he tasted defeat at the hands of Meath when his All-Ireland champions were ambushed in 2011. From there, the Royals seemed primed for a good year at a grade that has beguiled them. They didn't make it past another stage.
And despite the long-standing unpredictable nature of ties between the counties, Dublin are unbackable this week, the respective form of the teams overriding any sentiment of tradition.
"I'm not a gambler, I never have been, and I don't look at what the bookies say. It's a two-horse race really and no matter what form either team brings into a Meath-Dublin game, whether it be a pre-season game, National League or championship, they are always competitive. And I'd expect the Leinster final to be absolutely no different," Gavin said.
"Whatever pundits say about teams, that's their opinion. What's important to me is the attitude of the Dublin players and I know from working closely with them for the last seven months that they are very focused and they have shifted from the last game to the next.
"It's a Leinster final, it's a game against Meath that is going to be competitive so no matter what people talk about outside the Dublin camp, the players don't get distracted."
This time around, the expectation surrounding seems more valid than ever.