Saturday 18 November 2017

Don't hand Sam to Dubs yet – rivals only need only be lucky once

The Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire trophy at Croke Park on Sunday
Jim Gavin has an impressive squad to choose from
Several of Jim Gavin's players will have been boosted by winning the All-Ireland U21 championship against Roscommon last weekend
Disconsolate Mayo players on the Croke Park pitch after losing to Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile.
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Is the 2014 All-Ireland football championship over already in everything but name? Are Dublin so far ahead of the pack that they must be bored waiting for the formalities?

Will they simply freewheel through a Leinster championship, hang around with a couple of easy matches in August, wait another three weeks to collect the Sam Maguire and head off for Coppers to relax after what Jim Gavin will, with a straight face, tell the media has been a very hard campaign?

Clearly the bookies – those fountains of knowledge on GAA affairs – believe that, since they are offering only even money on Dublin to win, despite having to play six games to do so. It is easy to propose a submission to that effect which would be very hard to disprove.

UNLIMITED

Dublin have more than 20 top-class players – possibly even 25 when the U-21s are included. They have unlimited financial and other resources for preparing their team, with a 20-person back-up team including every type of expert known to any football code around the world.

Most important of all, they will be playing every one of their championship games at home, the first county team to have ever enjoyed that enormous privilege and something which the GAA does not seem to have any concerns about.

So there seems to be no stumbling block to prevent Dublin winning this year's All-Ireland – and heading off to achieve a first-ever five-in-a-row of All-Irelands by 2017.

Remember, if Mayo had not caught Dublin in the semi-final of 2012, they could have won that year's final and would now be seeking their fourth Sam Maguire on the trot. Nobody would think it was preposterous if that was the case today.

Looking at the championship draw, there seems little enough to cause any nightmares in the capital. On June 8 Dublin play Wicklow or Laois and they will have a nice break of three weeks before the semi-final, when they will be facing Longford, Offaly or Wexford – two Division 4 teams and one from Division 3.

Next comes the Leinster final, where Dublin should be playing Meath or Kildare. If it is Meath, then at least it will rouse the Dublin fans from their slumbers for the first time this year and guarantee a near full house.

Incidentally, it is interesting that the Leinster Council will stage both provincial semi-finals on the same day in Croke Park, a sure indication that the Dublin support is expected to be smaller in number than previous years at the same stage.

There is no evidence that Kildare or Meath would beat Dublin in a Leinster final as both counties are in transition, and the Sky Blues will be painfully aware of the cock-up they made a few years ago when the Royals scored five goals against them to win. They will not get caught like that again.

At that stage we look at the rest of the country for a team to take out Dublin, and the options are scarce on the ground.

Mayo and Kerry are generally regarded as next in line to deliver a knockout blow, but they both have bad memories from their last championship games, and Mayo in particular will tread very warily if they face Dublin again in Croke Park.

Last year's final was their best chance to end the wait for Sam but they blew it in the final quarter.

Very good teams do not normally give opponents a second chance. But sport is not an exact science. It does not work that way, thank God. In sport nothing is ever guaranteed and that is the best hope for Dublin's opponents.

Some of Gavin's players may get injured – they have already lost two front-line players in Ciaran Kilkenny and Kevin O'Brien. Referees may get a few major decisions wrong to Dublin's detriment.

If certain pivotal players get straight red or black cards it could hurt Dublin and change the course of that game, upsetting even the best laid plans.

These are all things over which Gavin and other managers have very little control – and it adds to the uncertainty. But of course there are many things that can be planned for and implemented by managers opposing Dublin if they are good enough at their work.

OUTPLAYED

They can home in on key Dublin players and, by various means (legally we hope), have them outplayed for this one day when the teams meet. Even the best players can be outplayed for a day by sound tactical devices and many brilliant teams have been beaten that way. Donegal's defeat to Monaghan in the Ulster final last year was a perfect example of that.

So, despite all the doom and gloom around the country about a walkover All-Ireland campaign for Dublin, I say don't despair just yet.

Surely the combined football brains of all the county managers will be able to come up with something that will give us a competitive championship, at least from August onwards?

Irish Independent Supplement

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