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Dubs must heed past

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Dublin forward Paul Flynn celebrates. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Dublin forward Paul Flynn celebrates. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Paul Flynn. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Paul Flynn. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

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Dublin forward Paul Flynn celebrates. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

NOT so long ago, and with noticeably less fanfare, Cork were where Dublin are now.

Exactly the same spot.

Their League-Championship-League succession of success meant the Rebels peered out over the dawning summer of 2011 with their own 'double-double' in open view and were, like the Dubs now, short-priced favourites to achieve it, even if it wasn't pointed out at the time.

More.

They beat Dublin in that April's League final, reeled them in with the assured, accomplished touch that the Dubs have only just since cultivated, looking for all the world like a team who knew how to win slowly crushing one who were still finding the finer points of that skill difficult to learn.

It was a day that Dublin scored 2-14 and led, at one juncture, by eight points.

So Cork scored 0-21 and hit the final six points of the match.

Dublin, meanwhile, imploded. Tragicomic stuff.

There was mitigation, though scant solace, in the fact that by the end of the game, Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly had left the pitch injured and Alan Brogan was suspended.

Yet, the defeat and the nature of it prompted Pat Gilroy into an uncharacteristically rousing defence of his team and, more to the point, their bottle.

"Do you think I'm going to say yes to that now, in fairness?" he replied to a question in the press conference afterwards as to whether Dublin possessed some mental block to winning big games.

"If I really believed that, I should walk out the door here and never be in front of that team again."

PROPHETIC

"People will say what you just said and we'll deal with that ... and when we have the All-Ireland, some day, that's when we'll stop hearing that."

Prophetic though Gilroy ultimately proved, there weren't too many people in Croke Park that day who, if offered a free bet on either League finalist for Sam, would have taken Dublin.

And so, similarly, there's not much support right now for the pretenders to Dublin's crown after Sunday's League final annihilation of Derry, the masterpiece of a spring which threatened, briefly, to be the more usual underwhelming, groggy campaign of defending champions but culminated in something awesome.

"We had something similar to what Dublin have now," said Ger O'Sullivan, a selector under Conor Counihan with Cork during those years and successes.

"We had huge competition for places on the team. He had experience. Really, we had won four Leagues in a row if you include the Division Two final in 2008. And we were All-Ireland champions.

"But the point is, any team can be caught on a day. Any team. And you start to notice little things.

"Like 50/50 decisions going with the underdogs. And for some reason, carrying a good performance into another one takes a lot more out of the players. Staying tuned in is much, much harder."

Post-League, Cork lost by three to Kerry in Killarney in the 2011 Munster final, more a rite of passage or long-held tradition than notable setback.

And so, to recalibrate their armaments, Counihan's men riddled Down – their All-Ireland final victims of the previous September – to put themselves back at the starting line for the Championship proper, or the August Bank Holiday weekend as it's more universally known.

Cork were All-Ireland favourites then, yet, still, motivation wasn't exactly being rationed.

Privately, they felt somewhat aggrieved at having no forward All Star in their crowning season and even Bernard Brogan's Footballer of the Year award didn't really sit properly.

And like all defending champions, talk of dynasties and records and places in local history provided much of the soundtrack to their season.

"The preparation, everything was 100 per cent," added O'Sullivan.

"The one thing that I would put it down to is the fact that it had taken us so long to win the All-Ireland.

"We had been in the final in 2007. In the semi in '08. The final again in '09. So to win in 2010, it took so much out of the players, physically and emotionally, that when Mayo came at us that day in the (2011) quarter-final, we didn't have it in us."

Problems, it would seem, that afflicted the 2012 Dubs.

"Even during the game, Mayo got a goal on us early on and then Paul Kerrigan got one back. And mentally, you'd be saying to yourself: 'yeah, Mayo frightened us early on but we're going to hit back.' But we never did."

"But the League is very difficult to analyse because it was so open in terms of styles of play. And I can't imagine the Championship will be nearly so open," added O'Sullivan.

"But at the moment, Dublin do look unstoppable."

So, by virtue of a few lucky breaks and some occasionally breathtaking football, the question for the summer of 2014 is no longer 'who will win this year's All-Ireland?', but rather, 'can anyone stop Dublin?'

However, the Dubs will do well to heed the lessons of recent history.


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