Recent history suggests the dubs will struggle to secure elusive All-Ireland final place, writes Donnchadh Boyle
Published 05/08/2011 | 05:00
"THE season starts here" was Bryan Cullen's rallying call from the steps of the Hogan Stand in July, as the Dubs picked up the Delaney Cup for the sixth time in seven seasons.
It was a bold statement of intent as Dublin prepared to sail into the waters where they have perished most often in recent seasons. The last eight of the All-Ireland series, and August in general, has been unkind to Dublin football.
Of the 15 games they have played in August since the introduction of the qualifiers in 2001, they have won just four and only two of those came over sides that had won an All-Ireland in the last 20 years -- Donegal (after a replay) and Derry.
Wins over Roscommon (2004) and Westmeath (2006) complete the set.
Last season's victory over Tyrone, their most significant result in years, fell outside August, but even if you include that in their record, it still doesn't make for good reading.
And former Dublin footballer Senan Connell has first hand experience of what can go wrong for the Dubs.
"At this time of year, Dublin teams can be put up on a pedestal," says the Na Fianna man.
"There's a lot of talk about Dublin and, inevitably the level of expectation goes up regardless of who you're playing. And I think the fact that Dublin haven't won an All-Ireland in years weighs heavily on players. You see teams when they win one, it's almost natural for them to win two or three. I think if Dublin won one, they could kick on and get a few more."
"Teams that come through the back door have a bit of momentum and because they're in Croke Park and playing against the Dubs they sometimes even play beyond themselves."
As was the case 12 months ago, Tyrone provide the opposition for Dublin at the quarter-final stage, but the roles are reversed on this occasion, as Mickey Harte's side have come through the back door, while Dublin will have been idle for four weeks by the time throw-in comes around.
In that game, Tyrone kicked 17 wides, something Red Hand defender Ryan McMenamin puts down to Dublin's work-rate. "We did kick a lot of wides, but Dublin tackled like f**k, if you'll pardon the French," he says. "They worked really hard and people didn't see the amount of pressure that they put on."
However, Connell believes Dublin haven't hit the same heights in that regard this time around.
"The intensity and raw hunger isn't there from last year. There was a sort of a malaise in the Leinster final is the only way to describe it, maybe their eyes were on the next day," he says.
"The system has been tweaked too, so maybe that is a factor. Last year was about conceding as little as possible. It's more offensive this year."
Despite their unconvincing Leinster final performance against Wexford, the bookmakers are not prepared to take Dublin on and they have been widely installed at a measly 8/11 to win tomorrow night.
"For a young team like Dublin, the underdog tag might have suited them more. But the bigger games they play the better they'll get. And I think the signposts are all pointing in the right direction," says Connell. "They've gone to difficult places in the league and won against Ulster teams, so from that regard, they've been jumping the hurdles that have been put in front of them.
"But this is a different challenge. You saw what Tyrone did (against Roscommon) last week. For me they are finishing with a stronger team than they are starting with. They were bringing in the likes of Brian Dooher, Owen Mulligan and these lads and they don't know which pocket their All-Ireland medals are in."
Connell fears that Dublin don't enjoy that same strength-in-depth. After the Brogan brothers, goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton is the Dubs' top scorer alongside Diarmuid Connolly. "Alan is doing very well to get the scores he's getting considering the game he is playing," says Connell. "Bernard can get back to his best against Tyrone, but everyone else will need to chip in. A couple of points each from Paul Flynn and Bryan Cullen would make a huge difference.
"If Diarmuid Connolly gets a few early points he could be a match winner for you. Tyrone got 3-19 last week, so Dublin need as many natural scorers on the pitch as possible."