Sunday 26 January 2020

Dublin's smooth operators keep treble dream alive

Well-oiled production line vital in Blues' bid for dominance across all age grades

One down... Dublin players celebrate with the cup after defeating Roscommon in the All-Ireland U21 football final in Tullamore in May. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
One down... Dublin players celebrate with the cup after defeating Roscommon in the All-Ireland U21 football final in Tullamore in May. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's safety net is gone but since the markets appear to think they can fly without wings, entry to the straight knockout phase of the championship does not appear to have raised a single doubt about their capacity to keep Sam Maguire in the capital for a second successive year, a feat last achieved in 1977.

It would represent the most striking feature of an eye-catching picture being painted by Dublin in their bid for dominance across all grades.

Dessie Farrell's U-21 squad won the All-Ireland title last May and, with Dublin minors through to the semi-final, there's a real possibility of a three-way bonanza.

Kerry (1975) is the only county to have completed the All-Ireland treble in the one year, which emphasises the enormity of the challenge. But, with Dublin winning All-Ireland senior titles in 2011-13, U-21 crowns in 2010-12-14 and a minor title in 2012, the chances of landing the treble appear to be increasing all the time.

While playing numbers, financial resources and facilities have been hugely influential in widening Dublin's base, they have always had big advantages in those areas, without turning it into All-Ireland success as often as expected. A key difference in recent times rests in the streamlined structures, which feed off each other all the way up through the grades.

The managerial succession stakes is an obvious example. When Pat Gilroy stood down as senior boss in 2012, Jim Gavin, who had led Dublin to two U-21 titles, replaced him. Gavin, in turn, was replaced at U-21 level by Farrell, who had spent a few years with the minors. It made for smooth continuity, benefiting players in all grades. For while Gilroy, Gavin and Farrell may have different outlooks on tactics, the production lines and systems remain consistent, making it easier for players to adapt and progress.


Of course, Dublin have also been helped enormously by the amount of individual talent which congregated at the same time. Irrespective of how well-oiled the production lines are, they don't always deliver that extra spark of individual talent which Dublin currently possesses in glorious abundance.

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Ten years ago, Tyrone's system for developing players was hailed as the best in the country, leading to claims that they would never know another poor day. However, the reality was that the squad which made the All- Ireland breakthrough in 2003, and went on to win two more All-Ireland titles over the next five seasons, had something special

And as they lost power, so did Tyrone. The young talent may have come through good systems but they lacked the individual excellence to replicate what the 2003 team achieved. Of course, burnout seems to be a particular issue in Tyrone.

Dublin supporters don't have to worry at present about what's coming after the current squad, which is still quite young, but it would be wrong to automatically assume that it will be as anywhere nearly as good as Bernard Brogan and Co.

For now, Dublin are in seventh blue heaven as they head into the All- Ireland quarter-final as 1/20 favourites to beat Monaghan (10/1).

It's an extraordinary price differential, especially since Monaghan were Ulster champions last year and runners-up this season.

And while they were dethroned in Ulster last month, the margin was close enough to suggest that they are only a little behind Donegal.

Yet, if Donegal and Dublin win on Saturday, the odds will be much tighter for the semi-final than for the quarter-finals. That's down to the view that Donegal are one of the few counties capable of really testing Dublin.

It's an ideal scenario for Monaghan, because, however hard Jim Gavin works to counteract complacency, it's difficult for any squad to focus with total concentration when installed as such overwhelming favourites.

There's also the worry of not having had a real test in the Leinster championship. Laois stayed with Dublin for three-quarters of the quarter-final, before being beaten by 11 points. Wexford and Meath were seen off with routine efficiency, never asking the sort of questions they were raising a few seasons ago.


That widening gap is down to Dublin's ongoing improvement in a province which seems overwhelmed by their presence, but it raises its own issues for Gavin's men, once the tougher tests arrive.

Whether Monaghan will provide one remains to be seen but the fact that they are being portrayed as no more than mere supporting acts in Dublin's relentless advance to the semi-final will certainly provide a huge incentive.

Another plus for Monaghan is that if Dublin are to be caught, the quarter-final is always a likely trouble spot.

Certainly, Dublin weren't at their best at this stage over the last two seasons. They had five points to spare over Cork last August but since the Rebels were at the tail end of a cycle which ended with that defeat, it wasn't especially impressive by Dublin.

A year earlier, Laois came within three points of Dublin in the quarter-final. Fourteen of the 19 (it would probably be 15 if Ciaran Kilkenny was fit) who played against Laois in 2012, featured in the 20 who won this year's Leinster final so they know at first-hand that whatever the bookies or the supporters say, quarter-finals can be tricky.


Dubln: 75 points to spare in just over five hours

Dublin - 12-98

The rest - 3-50

That's the massive advantage Dublin enjoyed over Meath, Wexford, Laois, Derry and Cork in their last five hours, 10 minutes of football. They trailed Cork by 2-11 to 0-7 after 40 minutes of the Allianz League semi-final but won the final half-hour by 2-13 to 0-2. They beat Derry by 3-19 to 1-10 in the final.

Laois led Dublin by two points at half-time in the Leinster quarter-final but lost by 11 points (2-21 to 0-16). Dublin beat Wexford by 2-25 to 1-12 in the semi-final and Meath by 3-20 to 1-10 in the final. That's a 75-point advantage for Dublin over four games, plus the final half-hour of a fifth.

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