Tuesday 25 September 2018

Comment: Dominance of Dubs no longer biggest worry for Leinster

Talking Point

Kildare will hope to get closer to Dublin in Leinster than they did in last year’s final. Photo: Sportsfile
Kildare will hope to get closer to Dublin in Leinster than they did in last year’s final. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It's the biggest province with the smallest chance of scripting an exciting end to its championship story.

Assessments of the Leinster football championship, which starts tomorrow when Wexford and Laois throw in, have, for several years, focused on how and why Dublin had left the rest so far behind.

The failure of Meath and Kildare in particular to offer meaningful challenges attracted extensive analysis of why two counties with a combined population of more than 400,000, and strong football traditions, made little impression.

There was also the question of why Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Wexford had lost so much ground.

Now, it seems futile to even bother addressing those issues. The facts show that at a time when Dublin are probably at their best ever, many of their Leinster rivals are relying on squads which would be operating at the lower end of the market in any era.

Other than Dublin, the county with the highest feel-good factor at the end of the Allianz League was Carlow, who escaped the bottom tier for the first time since 1984.

They lost the Division 4 final to Laois but had achieved their big target by winning promotion. Laois went up too but then what were they doing in Division 4 in the first place?

New manager John Sugrue had to deal from the hand he inherited and was rightly pleased with a spring campaign where Laois remained the only unbeaten county across all four divisions.

Still, it brought limited joy in a county whose expectations are far higher than winning promotion from Division 4.

Objectives

At least Laois and Carlow achieved their league objectives. Longford were unlucky not to win promotion from Division 3 but, beyond that, it was a trail of gloom way behind Dublin, who won the Division 1 title.

Kildare lost all seven games and were washed out of Division 1; Louth and Wexford suffered a similar fate in Division 2 and 3 respectively; Meath survived in Division 2 by beating Louth in the final game, while Offaly needed Sligo to beat Derry in the last round to remain in Division 3. Wicklow didn't win a game in Division 4.

It means that when next year's league gets under way, Leinster will have one team (Dublin) in Division 1, two (Kildare, Meath) in Division 2, six (Louth, Westmeath, Longford, Offaly, Carlow, Laois) in Division 3 and two (Wexford, Wicklow) in Division 4.

That's eight of 11 in the bottom 16, which is quite an indictment of eastern standards and leaves selling points for the championship difficult to locate.

It's such a different landscape to even a decade ago when Leinster delivered quite a few memorable occasions.

Wicklow's win over Kildare in 2008 was their first senior championship success in Croke Park; Wexford beat Meath and Laois to reach the Leinster final for the first time since 1956; Westmeath, who had beaten Dublin four years earlier en route to winning the Leinster title for the first time, ran them close in the semi-final.

Dublin won the final easily, but Wexford recovered, beating Down and Ulster champions Armagh to reach the All-Ireland semi-final, where they produced a competitive performance against eventual champions Tyrone.

Kildare reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals, losing narrowly to Cork.

Earlier, Westmeath blew enough chances to beat Tyrone in Omagh before losing by four points.

Leinster isn't like that anymore. Dublin win the title without having to stretch themselves while the rest make limited progress in the qualifiers.

Dublin apart, none of them reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals over the past two years, while Kildare's last adventure at that stage ended in an embarrassing 27-point defeat by Kerry in 2015.

So what can we expect this year? Dublin's 1/20 rating to win the title for the 13th time in 14 seasons shows how lopsided the market is. Indeed, the only curiosity centres on who will emerge from the other side to challenge Jim Gavin's men in the final.

It's between Louth, Carlow, Laois, Wexford, Westmeath and Kildare, with the latter fancied to check in for a repeat of last year's final which they lost by nine points.

In many ways, the lack of competitiveness in the final is most dispiriting of all.

Wexford ran Dublin to three points in 2011, but since then it has been a series of one-sided games.

Since 2013, Dublin's average winning margin in the final has been 10 points and on the basis of what their main opponents have done in the league, there's absolutely nothing to suggest the margin of victory will be any smaller this year.

It's sad for Leinster and bad for the overall championship.

Irish Independent

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