Friday 23 February 2018

Eoin Liston: Scare could prove to be a blessing for Dublin in long run

Paul Flynn scores Dublin's first goal of the game
Paul Flynn scores Dublin's first goal of the game
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

Make no mistake, Dublin can be very happy with the way the Leinster final played out. It may seem a strange thing to say, given that Meath were such heavy underdogs and really pushed the Dubs for three-quarters of the game. But the All-Ireland favourites still emerged from a provincial decider with a seven-point win, despite playing so poorly for the opening 35 minutes.

There has been much talk of the strength and depth of their squad and yesterday proved it. Denis Bastick made a big impact, while senior stars like Ger Brennan and Bernard Brogan were taken off, so it is clear Jim Gavin has full trust in his bench.

Gavin passed a big test here in his first year as a senior manager. He needed to make changes and he did. His team were trailing at half-time but he got them into the dressing-room and rallied them and they were a different side after the break.

From the moment Michael Darragh Macauley burst through at the start of the second half and set up Ciaran Kilkenny to pop over, Dublin took control.

Kilkenny really looked a class act. Even when things weren't going well, he was the go-to man and he dictated everything. He always had time on the ball and his composure for such a young man is phenomenal.

Paul Mannion too stood up and he is fast becoming the star of that inside line. Fittingly, it was Kilkenny and Mannion who combined beautifully to create the goal for Paul Flynn in the first half.

But obviously one shouldn't bury one's head in the sand. Dublin will need to revisit that first half. After Flynn hit the net, they only managed three more points in almost 30 minutes.

Meath were well on top. They had the kick-out strategy worked out brilliantly and Stephen Bray was electric. Indeed, Dublin didn't have anybody who could cope with him.

But they were far too wasteful in attack. If they were to win, they needed to really make it count when they got a period of dominance and the two-point half-time lead was never going to be enough.

What Dublin will realise is that they were outplayed for large periods by a team two divisions below them. If they had been playing the likes of Donegal or Mayo, it could have been game over at the break.

Weaknesses were exposed that weren't obvious before. They looked ragged in defence and, when they were under pressure, they turned over a lot of ball and that is a big cause for concern.

However, had the Dubs dominated as they did against Kildare and Westmeath in the previous rounds, it could have spelled trouble in the long run. They could feasibly draw the likes of Tyrone or Cork in the quarter-final and those games will be at a different level in terms of intensity and quality. It would have been far from ideal to go into a game of that magnitude without any real test.

After this minor scare, their feet will be kept firmly on the ground and they will be ready to do the hard yards between now and the August bank holiday weekend.

In Saturday's column I pointed out that teams playing each other for a second time in a matter of weeks is unfair on both the players and management and should be avoided. I was coming from a tactical point of view but Saturday night's qualifiers showed that there are further reasons why it should be avoided when at all possible.

Familiarity breeds contempt. While I was not in Breffni Park for Cavan and Fermanagh, I heard the fracas at half-time was ugly, to put it kindly, while the match was littered with late tackles, with three players sent off.

Even at club level, when teams are playing each other on a regular basis, a niggle develops and players carry baggage with them from one game into the next. There can be a negative undertone and it makes it very hard for referees.

I believe that there were similar scenes in the Longford v Wexford game, again two counties who have played each other a lot in the past 12 months. While the latter game was just down to the luck of the draw, Fermanagh and Cavan should not have had to play each other again, three weeks after meeting in the Ulster championship. The GAA should address this for next season.

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