Tuesday 24 April 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Power, pace and grace but Dubs are not unbeatable

Jim Gavin's men are ahead of the pack but they will hit a flat spot

Jim Gavin's Dublin are formidable but not unbeatable
Jim Gavin's Dublin are formidable but not unbeatable
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The general feeling before all the flowers have bloomed is that the Sam Maguire might as well be packaged up and delivered to Dublin. The coronation is only a matter of time. Jim Gavin, the rest of the management team and the Dublin players must hate this media circus which has developed around them. It's dangerous talk.

There is nothing worse for any team than a developing sense of invincibility; on a day when things are going badly the mind is not wired properly to cope. No wonder. As the old saying goes, pride comes before a fall. Over-confidence leads to disaster. It happens all the time too, from great battles in history to sport in all its forms.

Yet there is something about this Dublin team. Talk of dynasties, five in a row and this being the best Dublin team of all time is easily dealt with when there are hungry substitutes waiting to take the position of any player who gets too big for his boots. Dropping a big name who takes his eye off the ball puts manners on a whole team.

What Dublin have very much in their favour is that the players seem self-motivated, they have players who just want to play and win rather than be men about town, something which could easily happen in Dublin.

Yet for all that, and despite present form, there are surprises and occasional shocks in every championship even if the back door lessens their impact. Dublin are now even money to win the All-Ireland. It is a bad bet. It will take at least seven hours of football to pull that off and you would be better off having a bet on an even-money chance in a horse race than that. At the very least the pain is over quicker, but a fool and his money are easily parted.

Of course Dublin are a long way ahead of the pack. Maybe it is as simple as having far more good players than anyone else. They have speed, flexibility and players like Paul Flynn, Alan Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly who can kick the ball accurately to the inside forward line. It means the inside men can create goal chances as they have a bit of room. Other teams attack at funereal pace in a series of handpasses, the Dubs are not afraid to boot it.

I thought Alan Brogan was finished, he looked slow earlier in the league. His kick was blocked regularly which is always a sign a player's number is up. Now he is sharp, fit-looking and moving as well as ever. Operation transformation has worked. He gives an outlet for defenders under pressure. With Bernard Brogan scoring freely and a bulldozer needed to stop Eoghan O'Gara, Dublin have power, grace and pace. If someone is able to get Michael Darragh Macauley to kick accurately, he could end up with a half-dozen points a game as he gets forward so much. If that happened you could lump on at any price.

Nothing lasts forever though and Dublin will hit a flat spot in some game this summer. Whether there is anyone good enough to take advantage is debatable, especially as the team and panel will be stronger after this weekend with the under 21s returning. Yet for all that, history is littered with teams that were labelled unbeatable and ended up winning nothing. Fate sometimes intervenes. John Shirley wrote, "There is no armour against fate, death lays his icy hands on kings". Nobody is immune from being dealt a mortal blow.

Monaghan gave notice last weekend that they will put it up to any team they meet this year. They were very composed, and showed what they were made of when Donegal levelled with a penalty which should not have been given. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they struck back with a brilliantly-worked goal and won easily. The big screen replay showed the foul for the Donegal penalty was well outside so it was a pity the referee could not look up quickly like everyone else and just give a free in. Strange that the big screen actually showed this; it really irritates me at every match in Croke Park where the big screen goes on to advertisements when there is the slightest hint of controversy. What do the authorities think is going to happen? Last week people realised the referee made a mistake but the Monaghan supporters got over it quickly, the same as everyone else. It is just a part of the game, but switching off the replay is insulting the intelligence of supporters.

Monaghan are a good team and it would be a big surprise to me if they are not back in the big field for the All-Ireland quarter-final irrespective of what happens in the bearpit of Ulster. They seem to be improving from last year and have found a few players.

For a while after Donegal had their man sent off, Monaghan became a bit tentative. Goalkeeper Rory Beggan raffled a few kick-outs after placing them well up to that. Yet when the pressure came on, Conor McManus kicked a great point and a superb move brought a goal for Kieran Hughes. It finished a game which looked a little peevish at times. You don't

have to be on the pitch to see that there was little love lost between them.

In the first half Monaghan gave an exhibition of long-range point-kicking with a couple of exocets from Darren Hughes and Dessie Mone, Paul Finlay was bending them like Beckham and overall Monaghan looked fresh and organised.

On the other hand Donegal don't cast much of a shadow anymore and the defections last week are the first cracks in the veneer. It was not the sending off of Rory Kavanagh which beat them, even if it showed a lack of discipline, but even before that Monaghan looked a better team.

Croke Park does not suit some of the Donegal players anymore. The ground is faster than anywhere else and both ball and man come at them quicker.

They have to change their style but the problem is that nobody new has come on the scene to freshen things up. They will still be difficult opponents in the championship but nobody will fear them.

A league campaign for both Derry and Donegal that promised much has ended badly. Neither will have time to cry in their milk before they face off in three weeks. The loser of that won't be booking hotels in Dublin this summer. One bad beating can be overcome but a second will spell the end. The stakes are even higher now. One big game for both Donegal and Derry to salvage six months' hard work.

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