Saturday 20 December 2014

Can Meath stop the Dublin juggernaut?

Published 17/07/2014 | 10:53

Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin shoots goalwards despite the efforts of Meath’s Eoghan Harrington during the 2012 Leinster final
Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin shoots goalwards despite the efforts of Meath’s Eoghan Harrington during the 2012 Leinster final

It would be a huge upset if the Dubs failed to retain their provincial crown this Sunday, but if any side would love to upset the boys in blue, it's their near neighbours.

For good reason Jim Gavin’s side enter this final as raging hot favourites.

The early season form was nothing but impressive, crushing Cork and Derry in the National League semi-final and final respectively. The wins may have to be put into context given the Rebels' humbling against Kerry in Munster and the fact that Derry are already out of the 2014 Championship, but it should not detract from what were highly impressive team and squad performances.

The championship form has done little to dispel the general consensus that Sam Maguire is Dublin’s to lose.

Laois put the reigning champions to the pin of their collars for 50 minutes, yet still still lost by 11 points. Wexford were dismissed with 16 points to spare, more than the Model County even registered on the scoreboard.

The famed subs bench appears to be getting even stronger and Cormac Costello is showing why he has been talked about as a real star in the making.

Where are the crumbs of comfort for the 14/1 outsiders?

Well the Royals have shown that they possess the tools to make the final a competitive encounter.

A facile win over a hapless Carlow side was followed by a thoroughly deserving win over the Lilywhites last time out.

The Royals had five points to spare in the end, but the scoreline, in truth, flattered Kildare as Meath coasted at times in the second half, but showed a clear game plan.

Efficient in possession and always supporting the man with the ball, the Royals are happy to bide their time before unleashing their deadly full-forward line. Full-back Kevin O’Reilly described it this week as their “selfless brand of football".

The inside line of Stephen Bray, Graham Reilly and Dalton McDonagh did far more damage than their 1-05 haul on the scoreboard suggests, with Bray in particular demonstrating the ability that made him an All-Star.

Shane O’Rourke has added steel and guile around the middle while the defence has been resolute with commanding performances from O’Reilly and veteran Eoghan Harrington.

Not only that, but tradition and past history will come into play. Supporters on the Hill will need little reminding of the 2010 Leinster semi-final where the highly fancied Dubs shipped five goals as Meath romped to victory.

A repeat scenario would throw the race for Sam Maguire wide open this weekend, though few will be putting their life savings on Meath claiming just a third title in 13 years.

“Beating Dublin would be great,” Meath manager Mick O’Dowd conceded this week, though ‘unlikely’ is the word most neutrals would use.

If any team would dearly love to take a scalp of the Dubs, it is their neighbours in green and gold.

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