Saturday 21 April 2018

'Biting' claims the only black cloud in Dublin's perfect blue sky

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Some weeks ago this newspaper asked how many players, if any, from the 'rest of Leinster' would make the current Dublin football team.

By 'making' it they would have to improve it, not just provide like-for-like options for what is already there.

A figure of three to four was suggested – Offaly's Niall McNamee, Louth's Paddy Keenan and Meath's Donal Keogan among those put forward as potential candidates.

That was before back-to-back 16- point defeats of Wexford and Meath completed an average winning margin of 14.33 points for each of their matches en route to a fourth successive Leinster title.

That is greater than the 13-point average winning margin enjoyed across three games in 2013 which had bettered the 12.66 in 2008.

The records around this Dublin team continue to tumble and smash with alarming comfort.

Since 2005 they have now had 29 wins from 31 Leinster championship matches with just a draw (2007) and loss to Meath (2010) the only blemishes in a sequence of success that has seen them take nine of the last 10 titles.

Sunday's massacre of Meath brought to 11 the number of games across this stretch that they have won by double figures. Three of their last five in the province have been won by 16 points.

The idea that Keenan, McNamee and Keogan could improve Dublin sufficiently to merit inclusion in such a subjective exercise is a little more challenging after the last two weekends of Leinster football action.

The ease with which they dismantled a Meath team that brought quiet confidence to Croke Park on Sunday suggests that they are on the same path now that the great Kilkenny hurling team found themselves in 2008 when they torched everything that came before them that season and for much of the subsequent league campaign in early 2009.

Backed up by three provincial minor and three U-21 titles from the last five years their grip on the province is reaching embarrassing levels for the rest.

The prospect of a 'double double', the securing of league and All-Ireland titles in successive years which no team has achieved since Kerry in the early 1930s, moves ever closer.

Take a neutral view, set aside the prejudice over advantages that accrue from population and ability to generate money, and it's not difficult to admire what they do in full flight.

But across the azure sky that dominates the football landscape at the moment is a black cloud that taints the perfect tranquility that this Dublin have created.

For all the beauty, rhythm and magic that they conjure as a team, the existence of a third biting allegation against one of their players remains quite an imperfection.

The right and wrongs and background to the latest allegation can be debated and the mitigating circumstances of a player placed under extreme duress by his opponents in an angry exchange are taken on merit. Meath share as much blame in how matters escalated in that 62nd minute fracas.

The manner of Mick O'Dowd's communication of the allegation, by returning to the Croke Park Press room where he had already conducted his post match interview to report it, has also stirred reaction, not least because of his contention the previous week that a certain omerta had always been observed when Meath and Dublin play.

But does not the existence of bite marks on a player's finger that requires the relevant protocols between the medical staff from both camps afterwards supplant any terms of that omerta?

The bottom line is that another allegation of a bite on an opponent has been put into the public domain.

Dublin have previously had Jason Whelan suspended for eight weeks by the Leinster Council while Kevin O'Brien was cleared by the GAA's Central Hearings Committee because the case against him at the Central Competitions Controls Committee "was not proven".

In this recall, certainly over the last two decades, there have only ever been three allegations of biting at inter-county level that have been made public. Anything else has been merely anecdotal.

That all three have focused on Dublin players in the last 15 months represents one of the great ironies for a team that is pushing back the barriers of what they can do and how they can play with each passing game.

Their manager Jim Gavin has been publicly steadfast in the past in his call for discipline from his players.

Perhaps nothing will come from any potential investigation. Last night the indications were that there may be a reluctance by Meath to immerse themselves in the depths that such an investigation would take them with a fourth-round qualifier against Armagh on Saturday week that now takes on far greater significance in the wake of such a heavy defeat. But that remains to be seen.

As the case against O'Brien showed last April, when the Donegal player Patrick McBrearty declined an invitation to turn up in person to give evidence to the hearings committee, no case can realistically succeed unless there is full 'buy-in' from the alleged bite victim or an admission from the player charged.

The failure to bring the matter to a successful conclusion drew a sharp response from the GAA's director general Paraic Duffy, writing in his annual report earlier this year when he described the investigation as the "low point" in 2013.

"No one was proved to have inflicted the bite simply because no one admitted to having done so and because the player who was bitten decided not to attend a hearing on the case," he said.

In the meantime Dublin will continue to take a sledge hammer to records under a clear blue sky.

The black cloud in the distance got a little darker last weekend. It's unlikely to open its contents on them, but it's there all the same.

Irish Independent

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