Friday 16 November 2018

Jim Gavin's Dublin will have a point to prove away from the comfort blanket of Croke Park

There was little love lost when Tyrone hosted Dublin in Omagh during the National League in February. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
There was little love lost when Tyrone hosted Dublin in Omagh during the National League in February. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When pressed on home advantage last Saturday evening after his side's double-scores win over Roscommon in the first of the All-Ireland quarter-final series games, Mickey Harte was a little dismissive of Omagh's potential for an ambush.

Perhaps mindful of the bigger picture that to dethrone Dublin it will ultimately have to happen in Croke Park later in the season, Harte made it clear that his preference for a home game would have been Croke Park.

"I'm not sure that people can make so much out of this. I feel very comfortable in Croke Park, I think our players feel very comfortable in Croke Park.

"We'd love if it was our home game, we'd love to play in Croke Park as often as possible. It's a very unique place...Dublin and Croke Park, that's where they are and that essentially becomes their home venue.

"So I have no issue with that and I think anybody else that's playing the game should love to get playing at Croke Park. Is Omagh any big fortress for us? There's no real history to suggest that it is. But I suppose we never played a championship game of this importance in it before so we'll see what we can do with that."

Hidden

Behind those words was a hidden message from Harte that they haven't been cowed in any way by last year's humiliating All-Ireland semi-final defeat, that despite Dublin's dominance they still see themselves on the same plateau. And venue, in that respect, should be of little consequence to them.

"I won't be depending on the ground to win this game for us, we'll be depending on many other things," he affirmed.

To have said otherwise would have suggested inferiority from Harte and that's not a mindset he wants to take with him into the weekend.

That 'any time, any place, anywhere' attitude marks a deviation from a summer of venue rancour.

Kildare refused to play Mayo in Croke Park while Donegal sought a meeting over having to play Dublin at headquarters in their opening round of the 'Super 8s' series with Dublin listed for their home game there three weeks later.

Harte was keen to move away from that, underplaying the issue of venue.

In some ways, the issue of venue is more important to Dublin, given their near permanency in Croke Park.

A recently-compiled statistic revealed that since 2011 and the evolution of the spring series that saw Dublin move their home league matches to Croke Park, they had played 74pc of all their league and championship games there, 83 out of 112.

Their familiarity with it has bred a contempt among others at the advantage they have been able to accrue from regularly not having to travel outside the capital for entire summers, having access to the same dressing-room each time they play there and having such intimate knowledge of the dimensions of the place that allows their younger players to acquaint themselves quickly with the surroundings.

That's changed in recent years with early-season trips to play Laois in Kilkenny and Carlow and Wicklow in Portlaoise in Leinster Championship matches.

But that's a whole lot different to having to go to somewhere like Omagh to play a team like Tyrone.

Progress

Dublin's progress to an All-Ireland semi-final is not at stake in Omagh on Saturday night, not with a match against Roscommon two weeks later.

But the comfort they enjoy from Croke Park and the advantage they have enjoyed from it most certainly will be under greater scrutiny should they be overturned for the first time in 25 championship games.

However, this Dublin team have routinely underpinned their capacity to go to hostile environments around the country and get results. Why should it be any different for a championship game?

They've drawn in Tralee's Austin Stack Park on a night when the locals were as fervent as they ever were with a 34-match unbeaten record on the line, they've drawn twice in Ballybofey on Jim Gavin's watch, they've come away with three wins from Castlebar in the last six years, and they've survived and thrived in Clones on different days.

Even Omagh hasn't been a barrier with this year's second-round league fixture there won with relative comfort.

In 52 league matches under Gavin's command Dublin have lost seven, just three on the road in Cork, Kerry and Derry. They are not the statistics of a team burdened by travel in any way.

It shouldn't be an issue but, until they put it bed, until they show that they are not necessarily discommoded by having to uproot and play a meaningful championship game in a potentially hostile arena as Healy Park is likely to be, it will remain one.

It's somewhat fitting then that it's Omagh and Tyrone, even if the home side's record there is, as Harte illustrated, not all it can be cracked up to be.

Their five-year league record shows nine wins and three draws from 18 games, hardly fortress material. And they were re-routed to the qualifiers there by Monaghan in May.

The 'Super 8s' had a largely underwhelming start to life over the weekend with style and scheduling issues up for discussion but the pace should quicken this weekend with the four losers from last weekend - Kildare, Roscommon, Donegal and Kerry - fighting for their survival in the competition.

Dublin have much at stake too - winning on a more winding championship road than Kilkenny or Portlaoise is a bridge they have to cross.

Irish Independent

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