Saturday 1 October 2016

How far do the rest have to go to catch the Dubs?

Published 26/04/2016 | 02:30

Dublin players Denis Bastick, holding his son Aiden, Cormac Costello, Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn celebrate after beating Kerry in Croke Park Photo: Dean Cullen / SPORTSFILE
Dublin players Denis Bastick, holding his son Aiden, Cormac Costello, Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn celebrate after beating Kerry in Croke Park Photo: Dean Cullen / SPORTSFILE

Allocating a place in the all-time football hierarchy to the current Dublin squad won’t be on Jim Gavin’s agenda over the coming weeks but it will certainly provide entertainment for the supporters at one of most exciting junctures in the county’s history.

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A haul of four Allianz League, two All-Ireland and three Leinster titles since the start of 2013 represents Dublin’s largest ever collection of silverware in such a short space of time and, on the evidence of their continued efficiency this year, there may be a lot more to come.

Indeed, by the end of September, they could have won 11 of 12 major titles under Gavin, with the 2014 All-Ireland the only missing link in the glory chain.

Mick O’Dwyer suggested last week that the current squad were coming close to being as good as Kevin Heffernan’s celebrated team of the 1970s, which won three All-Ireland, six Leinster and two Leagues in six seasons.

They also reached three other All-Ireland finals, which they lost to Kerry in 1975-’78-’79.

Former Dublin manager Tommy Lyons believes that if Gavin’s men retain the All-Ireland title this year, they will move ahead of ‘Heffo’s Heroes’ as the best squad the Capital has ever produced.

Kieran Donaghy blocks a shot from Dean Rock during Dublin’s Allianz NFL Division One final victory against Kerry Photo: Sportsfile
Kieran Donaghy blocks a shot from Dean Rock during Dublin’s Allianz NFL Division One final victory against Kerry Photo: Sportsfile

“If they complete the All-Ireland two-in-a-row in September, I think the 1970 lads will have to move into second spot.

“We all know how good they were but this group is showing up as something special. They beat Kerry on Sunday without ever getting out of third gear. That’s some achievement,” said Lyons.

Unbeaten in their last 22 league and championship games (20 wins, two draws) extending back to early March last year, Dublin appear to be growing stronger all the time.

The absence of Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey, both of whom left the panel this year, hasn’t impacted on the defensive stability, as proven by the low average giveaway of 12.3 points per game in nine league outings.

Paul Flynn celebrates after scoring Dublin’s opening goal while Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy vents his frustration Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Flynn celebrates after scoring Dublin’s opening goal while Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy vents his frustration Photo: Sportsfile

Kerry and Donegal (twice) failed to score a goal against them in three of their last four games. Indeed, Kerry’s goal drought against Dublin now extends to their last four clashes.

Dublin scored an average of 20 points in the league, with their highest strike rate coming in their last two games against Donegal (1-20) and Kerry (2-18). That suggests that when their conditioning reaches championship levels, their scoring graph could rise even further.

“One of the biggest differences between Dublin and most other teams is pace. If you look back at how often they left Kerry lads behind them last Sunday, you’ll know how hard it is to cope with them.

“What’s more, the pace is coming from all over the pitch, which makes it very hard to counteract.

“Mayo would probably come closest to Dublin for pace but they’re not quite there either. As for the rest, Dublin are well ahead on speed,” said Lyons.

He also believes that there’s a real sense of maturity about the squad, which is adding to the impressive mix.

'We were fighting an uphill battle on so many levels' Photo: Sportsfile
'We were fighting an uphill battle on so many levels' Photo: Sportsfile

“They have grown into the Dublin jersey, rather than allowing the responsibility to suffocate them. That’s very important. Jim Gavin is doing an excellent job in keeping the environment right, so overall it’s a pretty impressive package.”

Dublin’s latest success has seen their All-Ireland odds cut to 5/4 while they are 1/10, possibly the shortest price in history, to win the Leinster title for a sixth successive year and for the 11th time in 12 seasons.

Kildare drifted to 12/1 after their defeat by Clare in the Division 3 final last Saturday, followed by Meath on 14/1, Westmeath 50/1 and Laois 66/1.

It points to another lopsided Leinster Championship, where Dublin will not be seriously challenged.

Lyons reckons that trying to become being the first Dublin side to retain the All-Ireland for 39 years is a powerful motivation, which will further sharpen their focus this summer.

“Winning the double is very hard to do. Kerry (2006-’07) were the only ones to manage it in the last 25 years – that shows how difficult it is.

“But this Dublin team is good enough to do it if things go right. It’s a huge incentive for them.

“You’d have to be very impressed with the way they handled Kerry last Sunday. I know you can’t read too much into the league but these lads have shown they can also deliver in the championship.

“They won last Sunday without being on full throttle, which will be very encouraging for them heading into the championship.

“When you look at the subs (Michael Darragh Macauley, Kevin McManamon, Cormac Costello, Michael Fitzsimons, Eric Lowndes, Darren Daly) they were able to bring in, it shows you the strength of the panel.

“No other county can match Dublin for depth of panel. There’s a lot more to come from these boys yet,” added Lyons.

Eoghan O’Gara, Emmet ó Conghaile, Tomás Brady and Kevin O’Brien were among the subs not used against Kerry, while Paddy Andrews, Dublin’s top scorer from open play in the league, was not on the match-day 26.

The Dublin players now head back to their clubs, prior to re-assembling to begin preparations for their opening Leinster Championship game against Laois or Wicklow in Nowlan Park on Saturday, June 4.

Irish Independent

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