Monday 20 November 2017

Dublin know all the answers but not the questions

Dublin manager Jim Gavin may no longer gain the same satisfaction he once did from winning the Leinster Championship
Dublin manager Jim Gavin may no longer gain the same satisfaction he once did from winning the Leinster Championship
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

One of four things will happen in Croke Park tomorrow.

1 Dublin will win the Leinster title for the 10th time in 11 seasons so easily that it will teach them nothing for the August road.

2 Dublin will prevail reasonably comfortably, adding little to their store of knowledge, but presenting Jim Gavin with an opening to talk about how much they have to improve before the All-Ireland quarter-final.

3 Dublin will win after an edgy performance where Westmeath run them fairly close, leaving Gavin to talk about how he always expected a tight game.

4 Westmeath will win, whereupon there will be a scramble to decide where the result should slot into the 'biggest upsets of all time' lists while Dublin prepare for a trip to Round 4 qualifier territory.

Anything but Option 1 would be a surprise.

For, while Westmeath's high-scoring adventures this summer have electrified the county in a manner not experienced since 2004, the fact remains that as well as accumulating a total of 7-54 against Louth, Wexford and Meath, they conceded 2-49.

Meath hit them for 2-18, a score that would have won all other 38 games in this year's Championship to date. That was irrelevant to Westmeath as they celebrated their first SFC win over Meath, but once they began to look ahead to the final a chilling thought must have dawned on them.

If Meath, who haven't been in Division 1 for a decade, can pick their pockets for 2-18, how much will Dublin relieve them of?

Dublin scored a combined total of 9-43 against Longford and Kildare, leaving them with an 17-point target to reach last year's Leinster total recorded against Laois, Wexford and Meath.

And since the 2014 average was 2-23 per game, the scale of the defensive challenge facing Westmeath is piercingly obvious.

Former Westmeath star Michael Ennis, a man who plied his trade in defence and attack for a dozen years, believes that teams tend to show Dublin too much respect, standing off them so as not to get caught in one v one situations.

He accepts that while it would be naïve to go toe-to-toe with Dublin, Westmeath have to play to their strengths, one of which is a prolific scoring system.

Still, they haven't encountered a Division 1 defence for over a year when, frankly, they didn't cope very well. In fact, their security in the 2014 National League was so lax that they were hit for an average of 1-19 per game, making relegation from the top tier inevitable.

The slide continued last spring, taking them into Division 3 before they located the parachute cord and halted the descent. Still, Dublin will have eyed Westmeath's concession column and deduced that it can be greatly expanded tomorrow.

They are probably right and therein rests the main problem for Dublin. Racking up big scores in runaway wins in Leinster may be very enjoyable, but it doesn't prepare them for the real world.

Of course, Dublin will feel that their positive experiences in this year's League, where their defence was very secure, leaves them ready for the big championship challenges that await, but they can't be sure.

That they can win the Leinster title by beating three teams which will be in Division 3 next year makes it the easiest province to dominate, while doing nothing to banish Dublin's fear of a recurrence of the nightmare that visited them against Donegal last year.

It leaves Gavin in an odd situation. Winning Leinster can no longer bring anything like the same level of satisfaction as it used to, since the challenge by their other contenders has been so poor in recent years.

Westmeath should not regard that assessment as disparaging, since this is a new Lakeside model, taking to the fast lane for the first time.

It may well prove to be far quicker than anything Dublin have encountered for quite some time in Leinster but, until it does, no case can be made for suggesting the gap between No 1 and the rest is closing.

And, in all likelihood, all tomorrow will decide is how wide it remains.

Top ten upsets (1990-2015)

Clare 2-10 Kerry 0-12 (1992 Munster final)

Meath 2-14 Kerry 0-5 (2001 All-Ireland semi-final)

Limerick 0-16 Cork 0-6 (2003 Munster 1st round)

Fermanagh 0-12 Armagh 0-11 (2004 All-Ireland quarter-final)

Monaghan 0-13 Armagh 0-9 (2003 Ulster preliminary round)

Wexford 1-14 Armagh 0-12 (2008 All-Ireland quarter-final)

Westmeath 0-14 Dublin 0-12 (2004 Leinster quarter-final)

Westmeath 3-19 Meath 2-18 (2014 Leinster semi-final)

Offaly 3-17 Meath 1-15 (1997 Leinster final)

Leitrim 0-12 Mayo 2-4 (1994 Connacht final)

Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport