Saturday 24 March 2018

Ciarán Whelan: Sam Maguire is Dublin's to lose... if they keep their discipline in check

Read Ciaran Whelan exclusively in The Herald every week

Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire Cup
Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire Cup

Ciarán Whelan

Meath, Kerry and Cork are the last two teams to do it. On the eve of this year’s All-Ireland Football Championship, the question remains – can Dublin bring Sam back to the capital and win the county’s first back-to-back All-Ireland titles since the 1970s?

And who, if anyone, can knock them off their perch and decide the destiny of Sam for 2016?


Fast forward to the third Sunday of September and it would take a brave man or woman to predict that the colours of blue and navy will not be prominent on Hill 16.

Such is the confidence behind the current Dublin team since their fourth in-a-row Allianz league title that many think this year’s race for Sam is already a done deal.

No one will argue that Jim Gavin and his team are not at the peak of the powers. Yes, there is a high expectation that this team can win another couple of All Irelands and confirm themselves as the best the capital has ever produced but the talk of endless dominance is misjudged.

Dublin are presently in control of their own destiny and currently have a huge psychological edge over some of their biggest competitors such as Mayo and Kerry. Does that make them unbeatable? Certainly not.

A cold look at the league probably shows that aside from the final Dublin were not forced to get out of second gear. With no real test until late August the next few months of provincial football will be of no benefit and it potentially leaves them a small bit vulnerable.

However, once their discipline is under control, they now have the power and the adaptability to play against any style or tactics that they may come against.

It is Dublin’s All-Ireland to lose. 


Expectations have been dampened over in the west following Mayo’s indifferent league campaign.

A winter revolt by the players resulted in the appointment of a new management team. The players are now under pressure to deliver and with respect they remain a driven group of players.

Let us not forget that Mayo had Dublin on the ropes in both All-Ireland semi-finals last year, particularly the drawn game where a couple of extra minutes may have got them over the line.

Their U21 success will have boosted confidence but May have some fundamental areas where they need to improve.

Their full-back line has been tried and tested in recent years and proven to be simply not good enough with the exception of Keith Higgins.

Stephen Rochford must restructure their defence but also develop an alternative game-plan that does not fully revolve around Aidan O’Se and Cillian O’Connor.

Last year Mayo became predictable and if they waltz through Connacht they could be potentially on a collision course with Tyrone.

No better man than Mickey Harte to snuff out their key players on the big day. I expect Mayo will still have too much power for Roscommon or Galway but a trip through the back door may harden their resolve and prepare them better for Croke Park.


If there is one team’s graph that has been on a steady upward curve over the last two years, it is the Red Handers.

Mickey Harte has been a divisive character in Tyrone with many of their supporters calling for change over the last couple of years. However, Harte is beginning to prove his doubters wrong and Tyrone, for me, look like a serious proposition.

It is 2010 since Tyrone won their last Ulster Championship and I suspect Harte first objective will be to win provincial honours.

That would be an important step for his young team and would give them confidence and belief going into the All-Ireland Series.

Tyrone are a Croke Park team and they are very comfortable competing in headquarters which can be a huge advantage. 

Harte arguably has built the best defensive structure of all the top teams where protection of the scoring zone is paramount with Colm Cavanagh doing an excellent job pulling the strings.

This defensive system makes Tyrone difficult to break down but it is the improvement in their transition to attack this year that has begun to make them more formidable.

If Tyrone build momentum they could easily make the last-four and will prove a very difficult opponent to beat.


You wonder was reaching the league final a good thing for Kerry? Another defeat at the hands of the Dubs has drained the momentum that was building up within the Kerry camp.

Kerry have been subjected to much criticism in recent weeks following the league final defeat. 

The Kingdom are still a good side and will beat most teams they come up against.

The reason for this is because they have top quality players. Footballers of natural skill and ability, footballers with the ability to see thing happening before others, footballers who are experienced winners.

The difference is Kerry are now a good side but no longer a great side.

Whilst the footballing brains are working as sharply as ever, the reaction of their bodies is a split second behind. 

Nearly 50 per cent percent of their starting team in the Allianz League final were north of the 30 age bracket.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice faces into the most difficult period of management tenure. Does he stick or twist? Does he make some brave decisions and introduce some new talent or does he stick with the tried and tested?

The tried and tested will probably win another Munster title but will not be good enough to take the top honours. 

The Pretenders

It is hard to see beyond the top four contenders but the game needs a team to come from the pack just like Donegal did in 2011.

While Donegal are now heading for the scrappage scheme with an ageing team, it could be that an emerging team like Cavan or Roscommon that will push the big four.

Roscommon’s progress faltered following a defeat to Kerry in the league semi-final but they have a forward line that can mix it with the best on any given day.

Their Achilles heel is probably their defence who were exposed badly by Kerry in the open spaces of Croke Park.

Cavan are a team making steady progress and now a good system of play supported by some quality young footballers.

They are certainly contenders for a very competitive Ulster Championship but could also use the back door for a run to the last-eight. 

Monaghan will never lie down and will be competitive in the Ulster Championship but they may have just have had their chances in recent years. 

Cork under new management will show flashes of brilliance here and there but still have no consistency for the real battle.

A Munster Championship is not beyond them on a good day which would be an indication of real progress.  

The Championship is where teams are born so never rule out a surprise from left of centre.

Nothing is impossible, as they say the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Let the games begin.

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