Wednesday 26 June 2019

Colm Keys: 'Dominance of Sky Blues sees dark clouds in Leinster future'

 

Standing tall: Dublin players, standing for the national anthem on Sunday, have set standards in Leinster that none of their rivals are likely to reach for several years to come. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Standing tall: Dublin players, standing for the national anthem on Sunday, have set standards in Leinster that none of their rivals are likely to reach for several years to come. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick came into the media room beneath the Hogan Stand like a man who had just caught sight of the Apocalypse.

No, it wasn't 2010 but just less than two years later. His team had lost a Leinster quarter-final to Dublin by 16 points (2-22 to 0-12) and he recalled a sense of detachment that he felt his team had experienced from their opponents for the previous 70 minutes.

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Cormac Costello, still to turn 25, leading the line for the younger Dubs. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cormac Costello, still to turn 25, leading the line for the younger Dubs. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"I am in football a long time, it is the most professional team I have seen in a long, long time. At one stage I looked around and I counted the number of fellas on the field and I thought they had 20 because they were up and down the field. I have never seen such physique, such a powerful running team ever and that's from the goalkeeper the whole way up to the full-forward line. In fairness, they were a machine."

Dublin were All-Ireland champions and while they would relinquish that title some months later, losing to Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final, there was an element of prophecy in Fitzpatrick's words that seem all the more relevant now.

Looking back at that Dublin team, it is scarcely recognisable from what it is today. Stephen Cluxton is still there, of course, James McCarthy is as lively as ever, while Mick Fitzsimons continues to stand the test of time. Philly McMahon and Rory O'Carroll both started that day and were used as substitutes on Sunday. Otherwise, it feels like a different generation. And it is really with the likes of Cormac Costello leading the line. Yet the impact on those they regularly meet in the province draws many of the same adjectives as Fitzpatrick reached for that day.

Cian O'Neill sat in the same seat as Fitzpatrick had done seven years earlier and while not so much in awe or shock, the Kildare manager still arrived at the same point. There really wasn't an answer. Kildare had played reasonably well, forced turnovers and created goal chances. Flip that on its head and there were elements of sloppiness and lethargy in Dublin. Yet they won by 15 scores.

Meath boss Andy McEntee must come up with a plan to upset the champions. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Meath boss Andy McEntee must come up with a plan to upset the champions. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Why does a 15-point defeat of this nature prompt further analysis for an ailing Leinster Football Championship? What's different to the 18-point defeat they suffered in 2015? Or the 16-point reversal in 2013?

That's the point. Nothing. And it's unlikely to be any different when Meath meet Dublin in a first Leinster final since 2014, which they lost by 16 points.

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As a province, Leinster has been waiting for a break in the clouds, a day when Kildare and Meath especially, because of their large populations and tradition, can find some real momentum and present a more meaningful challenge. But for every perceived step they take forward, they find themselves further behind.

Both counties are spending in the region of €700k on team preparations each year. By and large, they want for nothing off their boards.

From a coaching point of view, the onset of the east Leinster project, which has seen significant investment along the east coast in Meath, Kildare, Louth, Wicklow, Wexford specifically, may lag behind the Dublin scheme in years and scale, but is an effort to start bridging the gap. It sees Meath, for instance, with close to 20 coaches working with schools and clubs. Dublin have in the region of 70.

While they may have been accused of not doing enough in the past, the chasing pack in Leinster has its foot to the floor now, but it's to little avail. Being a match for Dublin in underage competition is far removed from the real thing as the rest are painfully finding out.

Coincidence

It's no coincidence that the Dubs' third team have beaten near full-strength Kildare and Meath sides in the O'Byrne Cup in recent years.

Wishful thinking is that Dublin might stop climbing after September and return to the pack a little bit with retirements and maybe a sated hunger. In a fortnight, they'll win an unprecedented ninth successive provincial title, something Kerry have never achieved in Munster .

But then you look at the average age of the attack that started on Sunday and think that, even at half-canter, they'll be too good for anyone else into the foreseeable future.

Dublin's dominance, and to a lesser extent Kerry's, has left the provincial system of competition under as much pressure as ever before, even at a time when Ulster is back enjoying productivity this summer and Connacht, with three competitive teams, is also thriving.

Sadly, Leinster Championship days resemble a ghost town. And the competition really has no meaning left.

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