Sunday 25 September 2016

Dominant Dubs on course as 'Blue Wave' reaches its highest tide

Published 22/09/2015 | 02:30

Jonny Cooper arrives with the Sam Maguire trophy for Dublin's 'homecoming' in O’Connell Street last night
Jonny Cooper arrives with the Sam Maguire trophy for Dublin's 'homecoming' in O’Connell Street last night

Less than two months after their All-Ireland title in 2011, Dublin's six-year strategic document 'Unleashing The Blue Wave' was released into the public domain to some mirth.

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There were some eye-catching sections, not least an extraordinary riposte to Leinster rugby over the "subliminal exploitation of Dublin's unique" blue jersey.

But even that paled in significance beside the targets set for the future senior, U-21 and minor footballers and hurlers.

An All-Ireland every three years for minors and seniors was bottom line, the U-21s being cut more slack with a five-year window to succeed. Needless to say, it drew criticism for its scale of ambition.

Dublin had, after all, only won their first senior All-Ireland title in 16 years by the narrowest of margins. Were they losing the run of themselves?

The then senior manager Pat Gilroy was among those from within to dampen the projections, describing them as "not practical".

"In my own mind that is not the way I would operate but a lot of effort has gone into it," he said. "It would be hard to say that every three years you are going to get one."

Four years on and Dublin have added two more senior titles, operating on a 'one every two years' basis. The U-21s have met targets in less than half the time prescribed for them.

The minor footballers are a little bit off but not much. From 15 potential All-Ireland titles over the three grades from 2011 to 2015 they have taken six, or 40 per cent.

The 'Blue Wave' document an exercise in chest expansion? No one's laughing now.

It was chief executive John Costello who re-affirmed that aiming to be as successful as the Kilkenny hurlers or the Kerry footballers wasn't unrealistic for a county of their scale.

What they have achieved, principally under Jim Gavin over the last three years, has been 'Kilkennyesque' in its execution.

Three leagues, three Leinsters, two All-Ireland titles - eight cups from nine. Brian Cody scarcely had a sequence like that in any three years during his unprecedented 17 years in charge. That's not to even to try to draw comparisons between the two but it sets a context for where Gavin could be headed with this team.

As head of the management team he deserves credit for absorbing the lessons of an All-Ireland semi-final that saw their defenders push too high and, consequently, be pulled out of position, inviting defeat.

Cian O'Sullivan's locking down of central defence, Philly McMahon's 'back to front' policy and just the settled nature generally of the team - seven personnel changes from match-to-match - gave them an added edge.

The gravitational pull towards acknowledgement of the potential that the most recent All-Ireland champions have to dominate for forseeable future is always strongest on the Monday morning after a successful final.

But there was something in a comment made by Denis Bastick as he appraised the victory, a sense that they had fallen short of their target to win Sunday's final with a really big performance.

They had controlled the game, he admitted, but not won it with the "fantastic" performance they might have cherished. "So this team is not satisfied. There are a lot of players who didn't make the team, didn't make the bus, and they're going to push on. They're not going to be happy, not making an impact. Things will change a bit next year but the core group will drive this on. We want to dominate."

Winners always say that in the aftermath of All-Ireland success.

But Dublin aren't done. When you consider that the full-forward line that tore Roscommon asunder in last year's All-Ireland U21 final - Paul Mannion, Conor McHugh and Cormac Costello - didn't feature in this championship, with the exception of Costello's brief tail-end appearance against Fermanagh - you get an idea of what's to come.

Brian Fenton's jump ahead of Shane Carthy and Emmet ó Conghaile in the list of prospective midfielders has been quite exceptional.

A year ago he was watching Dublin disintegrate from the Hill. But he was able to thrive in the environment created by Gavin.

Mannion has returned to Ireland while Eoghan O'Gara is making progress from his cruciate ligament rupture. The same linear equations were being constructed this time last year with the potential for Tommy Walsh and Colm Cooper to be integrated seamlessly back into the Kerry team. It doesn't always work out in those straight lines though.

Dublin may not successfully defend their All-Ireland title next year. But the decade already looks like it belongs to them. Kerry and Mayo apart, the chasing back looks too distant to make a sustained challenge in 2016.

They're racing impressively ahead of the 'Blue Wave' projections.

Irish Independent

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