Friday 19 January 2018

Eugene McGee: Lack of contenders in Leinster won't hamper Dublin's quest for Sam

Referees’ chief Pat McEnaney in the Hawk-Eye control centre at Croke Park
Referees’ chief Pat McEnaney in the Hawk-Eye control centre at Croke Park
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Could the Leinster football championship be going the same way as Munster's, with only a few teams capable of winning the title?

Remembering the history of the competition, the notion seems fanciful especially since four different counties – Dublin, Meath, Laois and Westmeath – have won it in the past decade, but the recent results look ominous.

Westmeath hammered Carlow before themselves being mauled by 16 points by Dublin on Saturday night.

Kildare are now regarded as Dublin's main opponents, with Meath or Louth the only other possible options.

Time will tell of course, but it must be a concern that so few counties are serious contenders in Leinster as Dublin dominate the province.

Dublin's destruction of Westmeath showed that they are clearly All-Ireland material this year, but on June 3 it would be foolish to assume that Saturday's performance will be replicated come September.

Yet, the Dubs' overall performance in the league shows them to have colossal resources of talent that no other county can match.

And when we couple that with the manager Jim Gavin's desire to play an open, fluid type of game, then Gaelic football fans –and not just those from Dublin – have a lot to look forward to this year.

The performance on Saturday was as near to being perfect as makes no difference, with used subs being as effective as the first 15; a tally of 1-22 says it all.


Westmeath, it has to be said, were a severe disappointment and played exactly as everybody, including Dublin, expected.

The packed backline had served them very well in the National League and against Carlow but when we watch a team playing Dublin with only three forwards standing alone, we can expect only one result.

They did try to work the ball out of that massed defence but Dublin would need to be very innocent to be worried about that, and a huge amount of the losers' possession was given away in laborious efforts to break through the hosts' half-forward line and midfield.

As a result the Dublin backs, usually four against three, won almost every long ball that came their way and it was no wonder Westmeath ended up with a meagre score of nine points.

Giving Dublin a head start of eight points after 20 minutes meant the game was over by then and we have to bear that in mind when examining the home side's performance. In effect they were playing an exhibition game from there on, so it is no wonder it looked pretty.

Sterner contests do lie ahead, even in Leinster, as Gavin well knows – games where the ability of some younger players to deal with older, stronger and tougher opponents may decide Dublin's campaign.

But for now there seems little to upset the Dubs' dominance.

Their next game is against Kildare, who only managed to beat Division 4 team Offaly by four points, but the Lilies could easily have won by double that. This was a typical Kildare performance, a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous.

We saw wonderful style and class from half-forwards Paul Cribbin, Niall Kelly and Eoghan O'Flaherty, all of whom had the remarkable achievement of scoring four points each from play.

But on the other side we saw an excessive amount of the sort of messing that has plagued Kildare for years: some wild attempts at scoring points, indecision in the full-back line when Offaly managed to get the ball there and confusion as to the exact role allocated to Tomas O'Connor. That played a part in the full-forward line only scoring two points from play, both from Johnny Doyle, although sub Seanie Johnston managed another one near the finish.

Another bright spot was the performance of the talented U-21 midfielders, Daryl Flynn from Moorefield and Daniel Flynn from Johnstownbridge.

Whether that will convince their manager to play this pair consistently rather than chopping and changing in that vital area of course remains to be seen.

Overall Kildare will be happy enough with their opening championship game but as usual substantial loose ends that persist in their performance will need to be sorted out before playing the holders.

Although Offaly lost this game, it was a very important result for a county who a year ago were beaten by 13 points by Kildare as opposed to four this time.

Had several easy frees not been wasted, the game could have been very tight, but a couple of things left Offaly constantly on the debit side.

Their opponents are vastly more experienced over the last six years, and of course Kildare have a huge physical advantage after all those years in gyms.

Time after time Offaly players had the ball taken away from them legally in physical battles, and when we add in a struggling midfield it was amazing that they only lost by four points.

This just might, and I stress might, be the start of an Offaly revival, following on from their promotion from Division 4, but they have to become a lot cuter quickly, and make better use of their outstanding forward Niall McNamee, who once again showed his class with some extraordinary point-scoring.

What will please Offaly people most, however, was that for the first time in years we saw some of the traditional fighting qualities that reaped such rich rewards in the past.

Irish Independent

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