Ciarán Whelan: 'You won’t find Jim Gavin's footballers falling asleep at the controls like Dublin’s hurlers'
Read Ciarán Whelan every week in The Herald
A refrain you will hear frequently this summer.... “It’s Dublin’s championship to lose”
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We are down to the last eight in the ‘Race for Sam’ and I anticipate plenty of twists and turns before the destination of the Sam Maguire is decided in early September.
Firstly, I am really looking forward to the Super 8s. I thought last year’s competition was more exciting that some of the usual naysayers did but I’m anticipating even greater drama this time around.
Five of last year’s Super 8 teams are on the grid again – Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Roscommon and Tyrone – with Mayo, Cork and Meath replacing Galway, Kildare and Monaghan from last summer.
That in itself is one positive of the All-Ireland quarter-finals, the fact that in its first two years 11 counties have made it through. It shows there is vibrancy in the championship.
Back to the Dubs and this weekend’s duel with Cork.
Jim Gavin’s men are untested to date. That is nothing new to them but the burden of expectation, and history leaning heavily on their shoulders, has to add some extra psychological pressure.
The law of probability suggests that something outside of Dublin’s control will be visited upon them, making a very difficult task even trickier.
One trap this current Dublin team won’t fall into though is complacency surely.
If they wanted a quick lesson in the tyranny of looking beyond your next opponent, then maybe last Sunday in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise will provide one.
From what I saw on the TV highlights and from all the talk around the place in advance of the game, it looked to me that Dublin’s hurlers had allowed their minds and bodies to be distracted by the prospect of playing Tipp in an All-Ireland SHC quarter-final in Croke Park.
They don’t need to be told now that they paid a very, very heavy price against a fired-up and inspired Laois.
Jim Gavin is regularly chided in the media for his strict adherence to “the process” and “activating protocols” but it’s Dublin’s ability to reset their focus on their next, immediate target that has helped keep them at the top for so long.
Maybe it’s from his career with Dublin, when teams did not deal well with expectation, or perhaps it’s from his professional career … it’s safe to presume falling asleep at the controls is a big no-no in the world of aviation!
Reflecting on Dublin’s season to date, it’s hard to get a proper handle on them.
They lost three league games (Monaghan, Kerry and Tyrone) and didn’t have to produce anything like what they are capable of to get past Louth, Kildare and Meath.
However, it would be wrong to just skim past proper analysis of their display against the Royals.
Meath matched them in the first half in many sectors, they just couldn’t kick the ball over the bar.
But they did force Dublin into nine turnovers inside the opening ten minutes. Compare that statistic to the fact that from the 38th minute until the 62nd Dublin had no turnovers and during this dominance moved away from their opponents.
Were Dublin to be as poor again in terms of shot-options and turnovers, then they will be caught out. Maybe not this weekend though.
So will Cork test the Dubs tomorrow night in Croke Park?
On current form you’d have to think so. Under manager Ronan McCarthy, they have no interest in ‘moral victories’ and look very vibrant, especially in attack, at the moment.
While Cork got relegated from Division 2 they did show signs of improvement towards the conclusion of their seven-game campaign.
After drawing their opener against Fermanagh they lost to Kildare, Clare and Meath in their following three games.
During that spell they employed a very defensive mindset, with Mark Collins, Tom Clancy and Paul Kerrigan being asked to work way back the field.
For their last three games in the league, they played with more adventure and defeated Tipperary, lost to Donegal and overcame Armagh. They were very much a work in progress but McCarthy looks to have a good few quick learners.
While Dublin have the advantage in terms of experience (Cork are playing in their first quarter-final since 2014), the Rebels arrive in Croker in fine fettle.
They made Kerry’s defence look ordinary at times and have run up big tallies in all of their three games to date, amassing 10-48 in their three games and only conceded 2-40, with Mark Collins (1-25; 0-15f), Brian Hurley (5-4) and the highly influential Ruairí Deane particularly to the fore.
McCarthy’s men don’t have any psychological baggage with Dublin, having not met in SFC since 2013 and 2016 in the League.
On that occasion (Dublin won 2-14 to 2-10) Dublin trailed 0-0 to 1-4 inside 20 minutes before a brilliantly taken Diarmuid Connolly goal briefly awoke them from their slumber. They still trailed 1-2 to 2-7 nearing half-time, before mounting a winning surge in the second period.
In conclusion to the Dublin game, I expect Cork to give them a good test but ultimately Dublin to show their big-game experience and start their Super 8s campaign on a winning note.
The game of the weekend will surely be the clash of Kerry and Mayo in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney. Expect fireworks.
There is always plenty of talking points and drama once Mayo make it to the latter stages of the summer and I anticipate plenty more by Sunday evening.
There is no love lost between the camps and if we get anything close to a repeat of their 2017 SFC clash or indeed 2014 – both of which went to replays – we could be in for a thriller.
Mayo have momentum behind them and their forward line is linking with a lot of confidence. The form of Darren Coen and James Carr will give Kerry plenty to chew over.
Their defeat to Roscommon in Connacht is out of their system and the victories over Down, Armagh and Galway have them in very good fettle.
You sense some apprehension in the Kingdom, if their twitter account is anything to go by, as they have been encouraging Kerry fans all week to get their tickets early and really get behind their team.
An invasion of optimistic Mayo fans is not what they want down south!