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'No team is going to beat Dublin in Croke Park if they play them man-to-man'

GRANTED, it's down the list of subplots, but should Monaghan win in Croke Park tomorrow, they'll play Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final on August 9th.

Part of the fascination of such a meeting is the prospect of Dublin facing a team already built to sweep, cover and defend in aggressive and 
well-organised troupes.

Which in itself, ranks as quite the oddity.

Five major trophies Dublin have won now under Jim Gavin (two Leinsters, two Leagues and a Sam Maguire) without happening upon a team with constriction prioritised on their modus operandi.

They have swept the boards, yet encountered mostly teams with notions about them themselves in a gung-slinging match with Dublin.

Or at most, have made only minor amendments to their on-field terms of reference.

"The thing that amazes me at the moment is, every team that comes to play Dublin in Croke Park has played them man for man in a shootout," points out Séamus McEnaney, or 'Banty', to give him his more recognisable cognomen. "For me, it is incredible that any team in the country; the likes of Wexford, the likes of Kildare, the likes of Meath have gone up to Croke Park to play Dublin man-for-man. Are they having a laugh?! Unbelievable!"

McEnaney knows what it takes to run Dublin close. He's tried it. In his last year as Meath manager, 2012, the Royals were beaten by three points in a Leinster final against Dublin, playing in a style not always to the liking of the more discerning Meath palate. A year later, under Mick O'Dowd, they went down by seven.

O'Dowd, who had made only progress until this year's calamitous provincial final, when 16 separated the teams at the end (although Dublin did hit the post whilst leading by 20 at one stage) said he got involved with management because "the fundamentals of Meath football had been lost," presumably at least partly during McEnaney's at times fractious rule.


But the point remains that he got as close as almost anyone to Dublin in Leinster during their current four-in-a-row. "The only team that just might match them man-for-man on a good day might be Kerry," McEnaney reckons.

"They just might. But the pick of the rest of them wouldn't be them man-for-man.

"And should Donegal win their semi-final - if Dublin win the quarter final - they will be better equipped again. They're at it years.

"But at the end of the day, if you're managing a team in Leinster, you've got to beat Dublin to win the Leinster Championship. Full stop.

"So you have 12 months to get ready for them. Not two weeks - 12 months. Like, if you come up with a system to beat Dublin, will it beat everyone else in Leinster? Of course it will."

"It's all theoretical at the moment," he continues, "and I am really and truly genuine, but I would love to see a renewed Donegal team play Dublin in Croke Park.

"And I'd like to see how Dublin would react to that. For me, there is no team in the country going to beat Dublin in Croke Park if they play them man-to-man.

"Jim Gavin must be rubbing his hands every time they go out to play a team that goes man-to-man.

"He mustn't be able to believe it."

Indeed McEnaney's experience of giving Dublin problems goes back further to his stint over Monaghan between 2004 and 2010, at the back end of which, the teams used meet regularly in challenge matches in places likes Scotstown and Inniskeen.


"The Dublin team is better than it was in 2007, '08, '09 and '10. But funny enough, Monaghan's record is 
very good against Dublin. It's very strong," he points out.

"We used to play them an awful lot and we used to beat them most days. Because they don't like Monaghan's style of football.

"Nine times out of 10, we beat them. Dublin don't like that style of football. And it will be interesting to see what happens if they come up against that again."