Friday 24 November 2017

Embarrassment of football riches

North-South 'teams' underline depth of talent available to All-Ireland champions

Daniel Watson scores the first of his two goals for Dublin despite the efforts of Louth goalkeeper Shane McCoy
Daniel Watson scores the first of his two goals for Dublin despite the efforts of Louth goalkeeper Shane McCoy
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In any other county, a player coming off the bench to score 2-1 in a dazzling 15 minutes at the end of a pre-season provincial tournament game against a Division 2 team would surely merit a place on a forthcoming league squad.

Daniel Watson's eye-catching cameo for Dublin against Louth in Parnell Park on Wednesday night brought the headline writers out to play but whether it's enough for to justify a place in the All-Ireland champions' squad for the defence of the league remains to be seen. Maybe but unlikely.

Watson has been on the periphery before. Four years ago, the St Anne's man featured as a substitute in a memorable O'Byrne Cup quarter-final replay against Meath in Navan which the home side won courtesy of a point at the death of a game that could end only when the ball was out of play as part of the experimental playing rule package that featured in the early part of 2011.

Watson could be described as a typical product of the Dublin club scene -- plenty of pace and daring about his game but maybe not sustainable at the highest level, where the team now operates.

There are legions of Dublin players in that category who surface each year for O'Byrne Cup and league games before disappearing back into the crowd again.


It is a quite a statistic to note that Jim Gavin has used over 60 players in competitive games since the beginning of last season, incorporating six championship, nine league and seven in the O'Byrne Cup, and still Dublin have managed to retain the highest standards, losing only an O'Byrne Cup final to Kildare after extra-time and a league match to Tyrone that also went to the wire.

They may not be considered the greatest All-Ireland champions but their strength in depth now suggests they have assembled and will continue to assemble probably the strongest football squad of modern times.

The emergence of players like Cormac Costello, Eric Lowndes, Conor McHugh, Shane Carthy and Niall Scully this year will ensure the team that delivered a second title in three years last September won't feel comfortable resting on their laurels for too long.

Dublin's second string may not match a first 15 but the level of competition now makes this a rarefied atmosphere to exist at.

When Pat Gilroy was asked to account for the quality of his team's performance against Tyrone in the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final -- arguably the high water mark of the current era -- he credited the nature of the training matches they had played in the four weeks since that year's Leinster final.

Being able to duplicate with almost an equal standard in every position is a platform no other football team has had the luxury of.

Dublin have obviously been very sensitive to even the most fleeting mention of splitting the county's vast selection.

John Costello, the county board's chief executive, trenchantly argued against such a notion in his annual address to Congress.

Costello made valid points that are sometimes lost on those uncomfortable by the growing strength of Dublin numbers, dismissing the effect it would have on his county by comparison to the rest of the country who depend on central funds that are invariably replenished by packed Croke Park houses involving Dublin football teams across the summer.

Their record of All-Ireland wins over a sustained period is not strong, given such a resource.

Two All-Ireland senior titles, two U-21 crowns and a minor title across four years does represent quite a concentration of success and talent comparable to Tyrone's double All-Ireland senior, U-21 and minor successes between 2000 and 2005, but over a longer period of 20 years Dublin has punched well below its weight in terms of All-Ireland titles.

"Never mind how such a change would affect us, how would the rest of the country fare in this supposedly brave new world?" asked Costello.

"In terms of gate receipts, TV deals and championship sponsorships, the financial consequences would be severe for Croke Park and potentially catastrophic for the Leinster Council. The Dublin brand sells, so we should be careful what we wish for.

"The key question is whether we should now be punished for doing so (becoming successful in recent years).

"Besides, there are still large swathes of the city where Gaelic football is seen as the 'foreign' sport.

"Our best chance of spreading the GAA gospel in these areas is through the Dublin senior team.

"Would, for example, Team Fingal or Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown have the same magnetic pull?"

That Costello was reacting to a columnist in a newspaper eight months earlier underlines the reaction there can be to this thread.


That "magnetic pull" Costello speaks of is the predominant reason why Dublin's resource will always stay as one.

For development reasons, a 'Team Fingal' already exists in hurling and earlier this week it was confirmed that Dublin would seek re-entry to hurling's Nicky Rackard Cup after withdrawing almost three years ago because of a clash over club fixtures.

Is there scope for a similar Dublin development team to operate in the early part of the season to cater for the numbers?

If it was based on a north/south divide it would be heavily weighted towards the north.

Our team attached finds no place for Bryan Cullen or Alan Brogan or any of the prospective young recruits referenced earlier.

The southside has to make the accommodation of placing current Footballer of the Year Michael Darragh Macauley at centre-forward and served by eight different clubs -- Kilmacud Crokes, Templeogue Synge St, Ballinteer, St Olaf's, St Anne's, Ballyboden St Enda's, Thomas Davis and St Jude's.

Without the sufficient back-up that the northside team would have, a southside team couldn't hope to maintain Division 1 status for any length of time.

But you only have to look at the quality of the most recent Dublin club champions to appreciate just where the numbers and the quality continues to stream from, with five of the last seven Leinster champions from the capital.

Irish Independent

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