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Eamonn Sweeney: Real 'Beast from East' gives GAA rivals chills

Dublin footballers are stretching further away from the pack than ever before as challengers fall away

Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny
is first to the breaking ball
during Saturday’s Division 1
clash in Castlebar Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny is first to the breaking ball during Saturday’s Division 1 clash in Castlebar Photo: Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

The Beast from the East is coming. It will sweep everything aside and leave a frozen wasteland in its wake. This will be the worst storm yet. Yep, here comes the Beast from the East. Or as it's also known, the Dublin football team.

In recent years some football weather forecasters issued an ominous Blue Weather Warning, predicting that there would be no stopping Dublin and that the entire football championship was a foregone conclusion.

They got it half-right. Dublin did win the last three All-Irelands, but those championships weren't entirely one-sided. In 2015 Mayo and Kerry came close against the Dubs. In 2016 both had Dublin on the ropes, but let them slip away.

Last year Mayo seemed to have the final sewn up but blew their big chance. This year feels different...

National league evidence is circumstantial rather than forensic, but things still look grim.

Last year Dublin displayed a certain vulnerability in the league, scraping draws against Donegal, Tyrone and Kerry and scoring just six goals in seven games, their lowest total since 2007. This year they've easily won four matches which looked like glorified training spins for the champions.

Last year's goal tally has already been equalled. More worrying for those of us who'd like a competitive championship - culchies to use the technical term - is that the main challengers seem in poor nick.

It's always foolish to write off Mayo. People did it after their Connacht defeats by Galway, but on both occasions they rallied remarkably and came agonisingly close to their ultimate goal. Yet Mayo are an ageing team and there is a sense that their best chance has gone.

That impression is strengthened by their awful start to the league.

Tyrone's imperious progress through Ulster last year suggested they were genuine title challengers, but the supine surrender to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final severely dented their credibility.

Three defeats in their first four league games has damaged it further. This isn't the form of a team poised for a great leap forward.

What of Kerry? The defeats by Monaghan last week and Galway yesterday suggest the Kingdom are a team beginning a new cycle rather than one verging on a big breakthrough. When they defeated Dublin in last year's league final Eamonn Fitzmaurice appeared to have found a team capable of overthrowing the champions. Two All-Ireland semi-final meetings with Mayo proved otherwise.

The league campaign has shown how traumatic this was for Kerry. Fitzmaurice has gone back to the drawing board to try a radical redesign. He has the advantage of possessing football's richest seam of young talent, but the Monaghan and Galway games mercilessly illustrated the gap between under-age achievement of even the most illustrious kind and senior success.

Next Saturday's meeting between the sides at Croke Park might tell a different story, but Kerry currently seem a long way behind Dublin.

Yesterday in Tralee they looked a long way behind Galway. The three-point margin of defeat was massively flattering to the home team, though they might have drawn had Ruairí Lavelle not saved David Clifford's last-gasp piledriver.

Galway persistently cut through the centre of a porous Kerry defence. It took a great stop by Brian Kelly to foil Shane Walsh in the first-half and further goal chances followed in a second period when the visitors played into a strong wind.

Full-back Sean Andy O'Ceallaigh's barnstorming run brought him straight through but he blazed wildly wide. A three-on-one at the edge of the square was butchered when Sean Armstrong's hand pass went astray. The otherwise excellent Barry McHugh hesitated when a goal looked on and opted to fist over the bar, illegally as it turned out.

A ruthless Dublin might have scored half a dozen goals against a Kerry defence which has conceded seven in four games, the highest total in Division 1.

By comparison, Galway and Monaghan, unexpected challengers to Dublin at the top of the table, haven't conceded any.

Kerry will take consolation from the way Clifford is settling in, but it's hard to imagine the wunderkind having the same effect in his first summer out of minor as Colm Cooper did back in 2002. Cooper came into an experienced and settled team. Kerry 2018 are in flux. They need a couple of Clifford equivalents at the other end of the field.

The patchy form of the big guns shouldn't take away from what Galway and Monaghan have achieved so far.

Kevin Walsh has seen solid progress with Galway, with wins over Mayo and promotion to Division 1, overshadowed by disastrous defeats at the hands of Tipperary in 2016 and Roscommon last year. Yet he has hung in there and this year Galway look to have improved again. There is more of a physical edge to them now.

It sometimes tips over into narkiness, but if there is one team who could do with a bit of narkiness it's Galway. Eamonn Brannigan, scorer of a superb individual goal and three fine points yesterday, looks capable of a breakout year, while O'Ceallaigh and McHugh are intriguing additions.

Monaghan are a marvel. Their ability to be competitive in the top flight despite a miniscule pick is a triumph in an era of underachievement by counties like Cork, Meath and Kildare with big populations and storied traditions.

If all counties got that amount out of their players we'd have a great football championship this year.

But they don't and we won't. It's a bitter irony that a hurling championship which seems more intriguing with every round of the league will be hurried through to clear the stage for the Super 8s.

They promise to be as enjoyable as a whodunnit whose end you know beforehand.

A very long whodunnit.

The Beast from the East is coming. There is a big smile on his face. He sees nothing to scare him.

Irish Independent

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