After Dublin’s failure to ignite in the 2021 Championship, eventually losing out to Mayo after extra-time, many people felt that we may see a rejuvenated Dublin in 2022. However, from what we have seen of them to date this year that certainly couldn’t be further from the truth. On Sunday in Newbridge they fell to their fourth successive defeat at the hands of the Lilywhites, the first time they have been beaten by a team in Leinster in over 10 years.
Getting defeated is one thing but it is the manner of these defeats that is particularly worrying from the Dubs’ perspective. Looking in from the outside one can’t help but feel there is something seriously wrong within their camp at the moment. They look a pale shadow of the team that won the six-in-a-row less than 15 months ago. For me, how they have fallen so fast has been quite puzzling.
There are numerous questions that have to be posed to try and get to the bottom of their problems. Have the players lost faith in the management team, and Dessie Farrell in particular? Are they willing to go to war for him in order to be successful the same way they did for Jim Gavin? I, for one, am not so sure.
The players’ attitude and demeanour look poor. They look frustrated. They are making mistakes that they would never have happened during their golden spell.
Under Jim Gavin they prided themselves on constantly taking the right option on the ball, giving it to the player in the best position and shooting from inside the scoring zone where their conversion rate was second to none. In contrast, over the past four games they have had a huge amount of poor turnovers, made bad decisions on the ball and had pops at goal from long range that have been invariably unsuccessful.
During Gavin’s era one would have to question whether he have stood for this. The short answer being no. He had plenty of talent at his disposal and such a strong bench that anyone not playing up to standard would be sitting beside him fairly quickly.
There is no doubt that the quality of player that Dublin have lost to retirement and fellas opting out of the set-up over the last number of years has been huge and one of the main factors in their demise. You look at the Dublin team that won eight All-Irelands between 2011 and 2020 and their bench was a massive reason that they were so successful.
Kerry came very close to beating them on a number of occasions during that period but could never quiet get over the line. It was probably the biggest disappointment in my own Kerry career never being able to beat Dublin in Championship. On most occasions the games were tight coming into the closing stages but the quality players that they were able to bring in got them the vital scores to see out them games.
Just take a look at the 2011 final, substitute Kevin McManamon came off the bench and scored the goal that changed the game. Similarly in 2013, the same man broke our hearts with another goal when the teams were level entering the final minute of normal time.
Fast forward to 2019 and Dublin were able to hold the likes of Diarmuid Connolly, Cian O’Sullivan, Philly McMahon and Bernard Brogan, multiple All Stars, until the game was in the melting pot and spring them from the bench in order to add that extra impetus and get them over the line. Gavin liked to refer to them as the finishers rather then the subs, and often the team that finished the game may have been even stronger than the team that started. Unfortunately for Farrell he doesn’t have the same array of talent at his disposal. It is very hard to replace the lose of generational talent in the likes of Jack McCaffrey, Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn, Paul Mannion... the list goes on.
Dublin are certainly in a period of transition and it remains to be seen whether the talent is there to pick up the slack that has been left behind. At the moment it certainly doesn’t look like the players are there. Not in the short term anyway. Not too many of the young lads that have played in the first four League games have put their hand up for a starting spot come Championship time. Sean Bugler kicked four points from play on Sunday, had a good game and may well push for a spot come championship but not too many more have impressed me.
There is a lot of talk about the players still to come back in for Dublin. The experienced duo of Mick Fitzsimmons and Johnny Cooper have come back in at the back for the last two games but to little effect. Dublin still look porous at the back, having conceded by far the most out of any team in division one and they seem to lack a gameplan at the moment. They used to be brilliant at getting Cian O’Sullivan freed up at centre back to act as a sweeper and protect their full back line. This isn’t happening at the moment and at times they have looked very vulnerable back there. Davy Byrne has really struggled at full back in all four games so far this year.
Can they shore up this area considerably over the next few weeks to give them a fighting chance against the form teams? Two men that will boost Dublin’s hopes massively are James McCarthy and Con O’Callaghan. McCarthy makes the Dubs tick and has been a huge player for them over the last decade. However, he is another who is coming towards the end of a magnificent career.
The fact that O’Callaghan has yet to be seen so far this year is a major concern for the Dubs. There were various rumours doing the rounds, one that he may commit to the hurlers and another that he may be heading off travelling. If either were to materialise then I will go out on a limb and say that Dublin won’t be reclaiming Sam this year.
Many people will point to the fact that if Dublin they can get their best 15 on the field they have pretty much the same starting 15 that won the All-Ireland in 2020. I believe that Dublin were already on the decline at that stage and probably weren’t hugely tested in that Championship.
We felt that we were primed heading into the 2020 Championship to finally get one over on the Dubs after such a near miss in the drawn 2019 final, which we should have won after taking the lead with a few minutes left and being man up, but a poor performance on a wet day in Cork scuppered our best laid plans and we never got the chance.
Hopefully this is the year that Kerry finally do the job. If both can win their provinces, which certainly doesn’t look a given for Dublin the way they are playing at the moment, they may well meet in an All-Ireland semi-final. One would have to be very confident of a positive outcome for Kerry if this comes to pass. Only time will tell...