Wednesday 21 March 2018

Comment - Dublin would probably have lost All-Ireland if they stayed loyal to long-serving figures

Gavin's men have mastered art of winning and, like Cody's Cats, no-one is bigger than the team

Bernard Brogan of Dublin following his side's victory during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kildare at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan of Dublin following his side's victory during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kildare at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Dublin have never stopped changing their game-plan and their players (from left) John Small, Ciarán Kilkenny, Jonny Cooper and Michael Fitzsimons show how to crowd out Mayo’s Jason Doherty on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The morning after the day and night before. There's a bit of bustle around the foyer and bar of the Gibson Hotel in Dublin's docklands but it's as much associated with the routine of a busy start to the working week as it is with the presence of the All-Ireland champions.

Only the emergence of the Sam Maguire Cup and a few members of the backroom team and team itself bound for Crumlin's Children's Hospital for the traditional visit distinguish it from any other Monday morning.

It's entirely in keeping with the understated progression of this Dublin team.

If the scene around the Gibson Hotel conveys routine business, it's because winning All-Ireland titles has become such routine business for them.

This was their fifth in seven years, for Jim Gavin a fourth, taking him above Mickey Harte and even Kevin Heffernan and on level terms with Seán Boylan. He's only five years in the job but already he has amassed half of Mick O'Dwyer's eight which made him the greatest football manager of all time.

Four of their five All-Ireland finals they have now won by one point.

Dublin's Brian Fenton. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin's Brian Fenton. Photo: Sportsfile

For three of them the winning score has come from a converted free, Stephen Cluxton's iconic 2011 effort and Dean Rock's coup de grace on Sunday stand out but Cluxton effectively kicked the winner in 2013 too when he nailed a free for a two-point lead before Cillian O'Connor brought it back to one.

It is a remarkable feat of nerve for a team to win these big games in such a manner.

Gavin is stockpiling silverware at a far quicker rate than Brian Cody has done at any stage during his 19-year reign with the Kilkenny hurlers - 13 major titles (four All-Irelands, four leagues and five Leinsters) all rest with Dublin over the last five years.

Consider these additional statistics. In winning three successive titles they have an unbroken unbeaten sequence of 20 games, the longest ever.

Brian Fenton made his championship debut against Longford in 2015 and has yet to lose a championship game. His only defeat in any Dublin game remains this year's National League final to Kerry. That's one in 43 games.

Ciarán Kilkenny's Dublin career stretches three years longer but he too has lost just one championship game he has started, the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.

Having missed 2014 with a cruciate ligament tear, the Donegal All-Ireland semi-final defeat doesn't register for him.

They are a team for all seasons, whether that's hauling in a Tyrone team with a five-point lead with 10 minutes remaining in a Croke Park league match or quietening the crowd in Tralee last March as they did with the unbeaten record on the line, they just have the greatest appreciation of all about how to get the job done.

The three-in-a-row has been completed almost by stealth. Gavin remained adamant that such talk wasn't a factor but his midfielder and potential 2017 Footballer of the Year James McCarthy admitted it was a prime motivating factor.

When you come from a storied household like McCarthy's, how could something of such historical significance not be relevant?

But in climbing so high it appears that Dublin have their sights set on taller peaks, given the nature of the personnel changes.

Ultimately, Dublin probably would not have won this All-Ireland title if they had remained loyal to some of their long-serving figures who elevated their status in the first place.

Nothing personal, just business that Michael Darragh Macauley was left on the bench for the last two games, Paul Flynn was brought on and brought off again, Bernard Brogan saw just five minutes of normal time at the end of the second half.

In that respect Gavin has taken a leaf out of Cody's book, the Kilkenny manager willing to bench Tommy Walsh for the last four games of his career and Jackie Tyrrell in isolation for an entire championship season.

Time moves quickly and in Con O'Callaghan, Niall Scully, Paul Mannion and Eric Lowndes, who featured prominently until the semi-final against Tyrone, Dublin have put in building further blocks for the future.

Whatever way they are asked to win a game, they can do it. Sunday's All-Ireland final was arguably even more physically taxing than their 2013 collision and for so long those conditions appeared to be suiting Mayo more.

And when Dublin had to be cynical they were - just as they were at the end of the 2013 final and just as they were at the end of last year's dramatic All-Ireland semi-final win over Kerry.

On Sunday, David Clarke's effort to restart after Dean Rock's winning free was hampered by the simultaneous dragging down and illegal impeding of three different Mayo players seeking to break free to make themselves available to their goalkeeper.

Smart play, perhaps, to kill time but when there are proclamations on your behalf that you "play football the right way," the irony isn't lost on anyone.

The great teams have to be cynical too.

Maybe they shouldn't be afraid to acknowledge that.


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