All-Ireland is Dublin's to lose - and the chasers know it
Gavin's immense unit possess aura of invincibility that's sweeping rest aside
Published 02/08/2014 | 02:30
Last September, as Stephen Cluxton held Sam Maguire aloft on the Hogan Stand, there was a suspicion that victory against Mayo didn't just signify Dublin's 24th All-Ireland success.
Throughout the summer of 2013, Dublin's pursuit of Sam never really looked like being derailed.
Kerry and Colm Cooper had them in a momentary spin but the depth of reserves at Jim Gavin's disposal proved too much for the men from the Kingdom. The final never really lived up to expectations. Dublin weren't at their best but still proved good enough.
And as winter turned to spring, when thoughts rolled around to another football year, the outstanding question was inevitably, who can lower Dublin's colours?
Events in the league did little to provide a credible answer. And while the league may not be a team's first priority, such arguments are tempered by the suspicion it hardly is top of Gavin's 'to-do' list either. His team have appeared to put considerable daylight between themselves and other All-Ireland contenders.
An aura has grown around them. The prospect of facing the Dubs in Croke Park has taken on a life of its own. As murmurings grow louder of playing all their championship games in Croke Park being an unfair advantage to Dublin, it is obvious there is an intimidation factor developing.
In the years of Kevin Heffernan did Kerry people ever argue about the merits of playing Dublin in the capital? I doubt it because that Kerry team never saw themselves as an inferior entity. More likely they relished the opportunity to beat their rivals on their home patch. But Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry was different. They were a great team.
For the current Dublin team, having to contend with such problems isn't a reality. Laois, Wexford and Meath provided little resistance in Leinster as they strolled to their ninth consecutive provincial title. Expectancy has grown around this Dublin side. Fans not only expect a Dublin victory, but now the inevitable hammering of the opposition is greeted with routine response. Before a ball was kicked in the 2014 championship, bookmakers priced the reigning champions as 6/4 to retain their crown.
It was hardly a giveaway but those holding such betting slips are a content lot as Dublin's odds are now 1/2.
Throughout the history of GAA, I believe it's fair to say no inter-county team has been engulfed in hype that resembles anything close to Dublin's footballers.
Perhaps it was related to the famine endured from 1984 to 1995 when the capital went without an All-Ireland.
Strangely, the hype around the present set-up isn't comparable to what's gone before. The sense of hope and longing is no longer evident, all long forgotten as people recognise that this Dublin team are, by a fair distance, the best football side in the land. And that, all things being equal, another All- Ireland title is coming their way.
Hype is a strange phenomenon. At a time when there could be real substance about statements of what may come to pass, people don't seem too bothered. It would seem hype only thrives in the make-believe.
For most teams reality has already bitten and this weekend will see four more meet their destiny for another year. Today the Sky Sports cameras will grace Croke Park for the first time as we broadcast the final round of football qualifiers. In the opening game, it will be a case of returning to the scene of the crime for a Meath team demolished by rampant Dublin.
I suspect Meath football has rarely endured such a dark day. The traits we associate with Meath men were glaringly absent. There was no aggression, no fight and no physicality.
I was interested to read the comments of the Royals captain Kevin Reilly during the past week as he referenced conversations with former Meath players in the wake of the Leinster final. He admitted the performance in the Leinster final shouldn't have happened but the team must now move on.
The question is will they be able to pick themselves up after such a demoralising day in Croke Park. Hurt and pride alone should ensure there is a backlash.
Their opponents today, Armagh, have averaged 15 points across three Ulster championship games and, even allowing for the style of football played in Ulster, Armagh hardly look a team laden with a massive scoring threat.
On these grounds, and assuming they find a level of performance that considerably surpasses their display against Dublin, Meath have every chance. Against a defensively orientated set-up they will need to be patient and disciplined, and clinical when opportunities arise.
Their success over Kildare demonstrated they are capable of amassing scores and, while Armagh won't be as accommodating, I suspect Meath may carry the greater scoring threat and edge a tight game.
In the second clash I think Ulster will gain revenge by means of a Monaghan victory over Kildare. While the first match could go either way, it's difficult to see anything other than a victory for Malachy O'Rourke's men in this one.
They had a fine campaign in Ulster, just coming up short in an effort to retain their provincial crown against a revitalised Donegal team. They have developed into a very efficient and seasoned team.
Tomorrow, I expect Kerry and Mayo will come through their respective quarter-finals. And when the music stops on September 21, I believe it will be Kerry who once again push Dublin closest in this year's championship.
The Dubs are on course to meet Donegal in a semi-final that football fans all over Ireland will relish. We wonder who may be best placed to stop Dublin's charge and in many minds it is Jim McGuinness' Donegal unit.
After a forgettable 2013 they appear to have recaptured their appetite for further success and all the hallmarks we witnessed in the 2012 All-Ireland campaign have resurfaced.
Should the clash come to pass they won't have enough to beat Dublin. Teams need to get Dublin into a place where they aren't comfortable – something which is easier said than done considering the personnel in blue jerseys.
But they have been exposed. Think of Kerry's performance in last year's semi-final when they got within view of the winning post playing a brand of football that Dublin struggled to cope with for large sections of the game.
It was a game decided by the smallest of margins, a game in which the final score didn't reflect how close Kerry came to winning. That Kerry team had Paul Galvin, it had Tomas O Se and, more significantly, it had Colm Cooper. Seven weeks from the All-Ireland final and it appears as though it's Dublin's to lose.