Sunday 18 March 2018

Keith Barr: When Dublin last won the league title...

When Dublin last won the league title, Eamon Heery was man of the match against Donegal and Bernard Brogan was seven. It’s time to end the wait

Keith Barr

AS Dublin's footballers prepare for their first crack at a national senior title in 12 years and the hurlers line out in their first final in 65, is it not odd that our country administrators have dusted down the old argument to split the city's teams?

Whatever about the merits of dividing the panels at the developmental grades of minor and U-21, they can save themselves the bother of trying to carve up the senior hurling or football teams. It won't happen boys, forget it.

Could you imagine Christy Cooney trying to tell the people of Cork that their beloved Rebels were to be split up, despite the fact that it is an enormous GAA constituency? Of course you couldn't.

But sure as the Dubs are not 'real' GAA people (ie from the country) it wouldn't really matter if we were to alter the essence of what it means to wear the blue jersey.

And the fact that the Dublin county teams are incredibly important elements in uniting the sprawling capital and are an essential part of our identity shouldn't get in the way of the GAA's obsession with the numbers game.


As I've said many times in the past, if the GAA administration is so bloody concerned about Dublin, then elect a Dublin president, appoint a Dublin CEO. Get real lads.

Gaelic games are thriving in the city but for some reason because the GAA is weak in some areas and is losing ground to rugby, there is a line of thought that making it easier to play for Dublin will sort these problems out.

It won't. But winning a few national titles over the next few years just might and thanks to a lot of hard work, Dublin now have a great chance to start that process tomorrow.

For Pat Gilroy's squad this league final represents a serious chance to confirm their step-up as genuine contenders.

There's no point trying to play down the significance of the game just because it's April. If Dublin are to bury the ghosts of the past decade and half then this is a game they must win. Claiming a national title is an essential part in a serious team's development.

Failure to do so will leave the door open to doubt, something that has dogged previous Dublin teams.

Winning league titles has also proven an excellent springboard to championship success in recent years and it is no surprise that Dublin's failure to even contest a league final since 1999 has coincided with their absence from an All-Ireland final during the same period.

Cork are no longer burdened with the same pressure and while Conor Counihan's squad haven't looked quite as formidable in this campaign, their experience gives them a decided advantage tomorrow.

Dublin's development as a side under Gilroy is not too dissimilar to Cork's. They are very much a 20-man team and it's arguable that, just like Cork last season, Dublin probably still don't know their best starting 15.

Dublin's league run has been marked by work rate and goals. There's no doubt that Gilroy has assembled a squad who understand what it means and what it takes to play for Dublin and this is reflected in the intensity of their play and their discipline.

My concern is really around the system itself, which is painfully defensive and counter-attacking. And it is totally dependent on no player dropping his guard. As I said before, I'm not a fan of this style but I understand completely why Dublin are playing the way they are. Dublin are unbeaten in the league because they have a system which is very difficult to play against.

However, no system is flawless. Take the Mayo game, where Dublin coughed up a 14-point lead and a lack of individual responsibility and collective drop in work rate saw the game turn on its head.

Dublin cannot afford such a lapse again and I've little doubt that Gilroy has drilled that into his side during the intervening weeks. It is the type of thing that he has painstakingly tried to wipe out since he took over.

Cork's strength will again test Dublin's system tomorrow, just as they ultimately cracked it last August. They have the power to endure a long war of attrition, something Down probably lacked when they lost recently to Dublin's late flurry.

Cork were poor on their last visit to Croker and even though they kicked 16 points, their finishing wasn't great. However, I suspect they will be confident of reversing that outcome tomorrow. They come into the game on the back of an encouraging win against Armagh and while the loss of Aidan Walsh is a blow, midfield is an area where, unlike Dublin, they are not short of cover.

But personnel aside, no team understands better where Dublin are at than Cork, who are a couple of years ahead in their development. And they will understand the pressure on Dublin to claim a title as part of their growth as a serious team.

As much as Gilroy has changed Dublin's style of play, he has also strengthened the character of the Dublin panel and deserves great credit for doing so. The Mayo game is again a case in point. Some years back Dublin would have coughed up the league points as well as a big lead, but they dug deep for a victory.


And digging deep has been a noticeable Dublin trait throughout their spring campaign -- something which I believe will be just enough to see them over the line tomorrow.

Last year's double champions are rightly favourites and it would be very hard to bet against them. But there's a point in every team's development where an opportunity simply has to be grabbed. Dublin failed to grasp that chance last August but I don't expect them to miss it again.

I had just retired the year before Dublin last reached the league final and I remember the sense that a win in 1999 was to be the launch pad for a new Dublin era. They lost limply to Cork at Pairc Ui Chaoimh when the locals didn't even bother turning out to watch and we've had to be satisfied with Leinster titles ever since.

So if Dublin supporters are concerned about history repeating itself they can start by showing up tomorrow and cutting the Easter break short for this hugely important contest.

When Dublin last won this competition, Eamon Heery was man of the match against Donegal and Bernard Brogan was seven.

It's time to end the wait.

Irish Independent

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