Winning streak marking out new territory for Dubs
Jim Gavin’s Dublin have been up for every challenge on an unprecedented 20-match run without a defeat
Published 09/04/2016 | 02:30
When Jim Gavin took on the Dublin football job in late 2012, he made no secret of the philosophy he would espouse.
Central to it was the legacy of previous Dublin teams, chiefly those administered by Kevin Heffernan.
But Gavin also opened up on who else he might draw from, with American basketball coaching supremo John Wooden a key influencer.
Wooden oversaw one of the longest unbeaten 'streaks' in any team sport, stretching some 88 games with UCLA in the national colleges championship between 1971 and '74.
Dublin aren't, of course, in that territory but in the attritional and much more staggered environment of inter-county Gaelic games, a streak that has now stretched to 20 competitive games in league and championship, taking in part or all of three different competitions over a 13-month period, is a phenomenal achievement.
From the moment Dean Rock plundered a late goal to rein in a Tyrone team that had outsmarted them for so long in early March 2015 to last Sunday's battle to withstand a Roscommon surge in Carrick-on-Shannon, Dublin have drawn and won games every conceivable way in all kinds of conditions.
They've come from behind - eight down against Cork and five down against Monaghan in this year's league, four down in last year's semi-final replay against Mayo - they've hit the front and just gone further away in the league against Mayo and Cork (final) and Leinster semi-final against Kildare and they've won tight, defensive grinds against Derry, Donegal and Mayo.
Whatever has been thrown at them, they have absorbed it and come back for more.
It is unprecedented in modern times. Joe Kernan's Armagh went 15 games without a loss in 2005, their seven-point Division 1B loss to Wexford in the opening round that year precipitating a surge that took in a first league title, an Ulster Championship that required six games to negotiate (two draws) before they lost by just a point in an epic All-Ireland semi-final to Tyrone.
But even that should be qualified by the fact that Division 1 was a 16-team affair back then.
The balance of that is that the Leinster Championship has become a three-match midsummer breeze for Dublin in recent times by comparison to what Armagh had to encounter then and now. And 15 of the 20 games have been played in Croke Park.
But among those who have failed to stall their momentum have been Mayo who they have played four times, Monaghan (three), and Donegal and Kerry (twice each).
Even the Kilkenny hurlers have not managed to put a sequence together like it despite their trophy-gathering exploits. In the past, when asked about the advantage of a settled team, the Kilkenny manager Brian Cody would often respond about his preference for a 'settled spirit'.
Dublin appear to have reached that stage in their cycle now.
A campaign that has so far stripped them of Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey, who opted to travel abroad this year, should have thrown up more shock waves.
But in truth they have been comfortable, even in their early-season games when they have been at their most vulnerable in the Gavin era.
Remarkably, the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal still stands as the only post-St Patrick's day defeat of his managerial tenure.
In that period incorporating 18 championship and 14 league games, when the business of their sport gets much more serious, they have scarcely had a glove laid on them.
It has helped Dublin to generate a trophy return of eight out of nine (league and championship) that again even outstrips what the Kilkenny hurlers have achieved over any sequence of nine competitions.
Somehow these great managerial feats appear to be subsumed in the narrative of natural advantages that a football team playing out of the capital city enjoys.
Their settled nature has radiated more than ever in this league despite such seismic losses from their dressing-room, Alan Brogan's retirement just as potentially taxing as either of the other two departees.
Some 35 players have been deployed so far in 2016, the same figure who saw action at the same stage last year.
With the exception of Con O'Callaghan, who saw action against Kerry, and Ballyboden St Enda's All-Ireland club winner Robbie McDaid, who came on the last day against Roscommon, the rest have all been on the books at one stage in the previous three years.
Thus the turnover is minimal, the need to cultivate new pastures a lot less pressing than it is even among some of their chief rivals. Even players like Ciaran Reddin, Philly Ryan and Kevin O'Brien continue to be recycled.
Gavin's strategy of bringing in the full complement of substitutes in every game continued, irrespective of the situation they found themselves in while the shape of the defence in the absence of O'Carroll and McCaffrey also became clearer, Davy Byrne and Mick Fitzsimons stating the strongest cases for inclusion in the full-back line with John Small on the next line out where a repositioning of Philly McMahon can't be discounted.
From the five different midfield partnerships on show the only certainty is that Brian Fenton is just that, anchoring the last four games with three different 'wing men.' Michael Darragh Macauley has yet to return.
James McCarthy has been arguably the league's stand-out player so far but after that Dublin's contributors have varied on different days to suit different tasks.
It is a measure of their consistency and stability that it is working out this way, creating that calm environment for a sequence that may, in time, even over-ride the titles and trophies as a measure of this team's place in history.