Friday 24 November 2017

Does 16-point win suggest structure is over the hill?

Paul Flynn is backed into a corner by Westmeath’s Kevin Maguire. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Flynn is backed into a corner by Westmeath’s Kevin Maguire. Photo: Sportsfile

FIRST they have to be split in half. Then they have to be shifted out of Croke Park. Now, it seems, Dublin football has driven the most significant nail into the coffin of the provincial football championship structures.

Every time they post a win of this nature it's the touchstone for a frenzy of fundamental debate.

The inevitable spotlight on the structures of the provincial championships and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots has intensified since Saturday night.

Allied to the result in Killarney and following on from what happened at the same venue last week, the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick and at Salthill the week before, the concern over structures and standards is spiralling.

A week ago it was Tipperary manager Peter Creedon making the call for reform. Now, more worryingly, it's a manager who will take his team into Division 1 for the second time in five years next season, the same team that almost drove a stake through the heart of one of that elite group, Kerry, in a second-round qualifier game last year.

Pat Flanagan sees trouble brewing after Dublin stayed in step with all the predictions that they will ease their way to an eighth Leinster title in nine years.

This was comprehensive from a Dublin team who might just be as quick as any that have played the game.

They cruised into a 0-8 to 0-0 lead by the 22nd minute before Denis Glennon finally slipped Rory O'Carroll and got Westmeath off the mark.

They got some traction over the next five minutes and closed to within four points, 0-8 to 0-4, but Dublin took off again, the power, mobility and that pace offering no respite for their opponents, no time to draw breath.

By the break it was 0-12 to 0-4, with Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and Paddy Andrews all in relentless mood.

The ability of James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey and Michael Darragh Macauley to attack space so quickly compounded the difficulties for Westmeath.

Connolly had three goal chances in the second half: one was taken off the line by Mark McCallon, the other two were dragged wide.

Eventually Paddy Andrews did beat Gary Connaughton, who had saved superbly from Paul Mannion in the sixth minute, with a sublime shot on 69 minutes.

Glennon and Kieran Martin did prosper at times up front in the absence of hamstring victim Dessie Dolan, but the belief that Westmeath convinced themselves they had all week quickly evaporated.

If there are concerns for Dublin, they are minimal. The famed laser-like Cluxton kickout had a few misreadings and it was noticeable as the game wore on how more were targeted longer and towards the centre, in contrast to the wings which have been favoured in the past.

Alan Brogan and Bryan Cullen are the two best readers of the Cluxton delivery but were missing for different reasons.

Ciaran Kilkenny didn't settle into the game as easily as other attackers as he snatched at shots and passes.

Admittedly, he was only making his second championship start and coming off the back of a knee injury, but at this point of his career the inside line may be more fertile ground for him.

Jim Gavin's only issue was the four weeks until the semi-final. The call for reform was loud there too, with the Dublin manager in favour of a much more compressed inter-county season.

'I know there are issues for (promotional) coverage of GAA games, that we want to keep our games in the headlines, but we could start later. Why do we start the National Leagues when we have the Sigerson games on?' he asked.

'Having experienced the U-21s there is always a conflict there between senior set-ups and U-21 set-ups.

'Let the Sigerson and let the U-21 competition take place and then everybody can kick off. The clubs, too. Let all that take place and then we can have a look at kicking off with the leagues in April and move from there.'

Flanagan's words were much more than those of a chastened manager.

'I'm really getting worried about the gulf that's starting to develop. There seems to be a huge gulf developing between Division 1 and Division 2 teams,' he said.

'Further down the line too. We played Carlow a couple weeks ago and I saw the dejection on the faces of the Carlow boys and I see it in there today.

'Maybe we should start revisiting how the championship is run. Had we won that game today, we'd have had to play Kildare in the next game and so on.

'Maybe we should start having a look at two championships running simultaneously together. You need to get players competing, otherwise they're going to go away.

'I read in the paper recently a couple of the Laois lads are starting to move away. That's not going to improve football, that's not going to improve any county, and it's extremely detrimental to GAA.

'If we don't do something about it in the near future, we're going to struggle to have any sort of competition whatsoever,' Flanagan warned.

'We go into qualifiers and, let's be totally honest, the pressure is going to be on players to go back to clubs, the pressure is going to be on players to go to America.

'We need meaningful competition that's going to give these guys an opportunity to progress. They deserve better.

'As long as we continue to run competitions like we're running... Dublin are going for their eighth Leinster in nine years, that's phenomenal. How do you compete like that in the times that are in it?

'We don' t have the financial resources in Westmeath, (and neither do) the small counties. We don't have the other resources that Dublin have up here.

'Most of those guys are living at home and only have to travel a couple of miles to training.

'In other counties, they have to travel from Dublin, Galway, Cork or wherever. We need to seriously have a look at it. If we don't, Dublin, Kerry and all the rest are just going to sail ahead and the rest are just going to get weaker and weaker.'

Dublin's familiarity with the venue – it was their eighth game of the season in Croke Park – got its routine airing, too, with an interesting take on it.

'It is a huge opportunity for Dublin. I would say if we had all our games in Cusack Park for the next two years, we would win a Leinster Championship,' predicted Flanagan.

SCORERS: Dublin: B Brogan 0-7 (5fs), P Andrews 1-3, P Flynn, D Connolly 0-3 each, D Rock 0-2 (1f), J McCaffrey, C O'Sullivan, P Mannion, C Kilkenny 0-1 each. Westmeath: J Heslin 0-5 (5fs), D Glennon 0-2, K Martin, D Corroon 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton 7; D Daly 5, R O'Carroll 7, J Cooper 8; J McCarthy 7, G Brennan 8, J McCaffrey 9; MD McAuley 8, C O'Sullivan 7; P Flynn 9, C Kilkenny 6, D Connolly 7; P Mannion 6, P Andrews 9, B Brogan 7. Subs: K O'Brien 6 for Daly (43), N Devereux 7 for McCarthy (48), D Rock 6 for Mannion (54), D Bastick 6 for MacAuley (55), C Costello for Brogan (61).

WESTMEATH: G Connaughton 8; M McCallon 6, K Gavin 6, K Maguire 7; D Harte 5, P Sharry 5, J Gaffey 5; D Duffy 5, J Heslin 6; K Martin 7, C McCormack 5, J Dolan 6; G Egan 5, D Glennon 7, C Curley 5. Subs: D Dolan for Harte (48), D Corroon for Curley (48), D Dolan for Harte (48), P Bannon for Egan (60), A Purcell for McCallon (64).

REFEREE: E Kinsella (Laois).

Fingal Independent

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