Sunday 21 January 2018

Keith Barr: Bonus time for the Dubs

Keith Barr

IT'S a funny reality about sport that when you absolutely can't see something happening, it invariably does. Last weekend was all about a tired consensus being ripped asunder. And it was a huge boost for a flagging championship. Whatever about the arguments over the relevance of the provincial titles, football needed, and got, an injection of something new.

And, thanks primarily to the work and fresh perspective provided by the new managerial brigade, we now have two semi-finals to really relish.

Revelling in the thrill of last weekend's shock results is not to diminish in any way the achievements of Tyrone and Kerry, who set new standards throughout the last decade, but predictability was choking the life out of the championship. And while Cork are still looming large over proceedings, it is quite remarkable to consider that either Down or Kildare will contest the 2010 All-Ireland final.

I don't know how many people last week said that the only hope they held out for Dublin against Tyrone was that there really was no hope and therefore no weight of expectation.

And I suppose the result reminded us how the absence of hype can be of huge advantage to an emerging team. This was the lowest-key quarter-final appearance by Dublin in years and, ironically, they earned their most significant win on the back of it.

It's worth pointing out again just how significant this victory was. Dublin haven't beaten a really top side in championship football for 15 years and by top side I mean one in immediate contention for All-Ireland honours. It's an incredible statistic and one that has saddled Dublin with seemingly unshakeable baggage in recent years.

Last week, all anyone in Dublin asked of the team was that they would deliver an honest effort; work hard and react to what Tyrone threw at them. Of course, they did far more than that and, for once, were rewarded with the rub of the green.

It would be miserable in the extreme to say this was a lucky win for Dublin just because of the things that went their way. True, Tyrone did not capitalise on their periods of dominance in the way we are accustomed to, but ultimately they were punished by a side that refused to buckle and one that tackled harder than any Dublin team in years.

For Pat Gilroy, it is another incremental step in his panel's development, albeit the biggest one to date.

In the short term it has cemented belief in the plan to change the culture of Dublin football teams, which is hugely important for everyone involved, particularly the players.


I don't think anyone is under any illusions what is now happening; either you adhere to the system and work 'til you drop, or you simply don't figure. There is no room for passengers.

All of which is progress, Gilroy's ultimate target this year.

What is quite remarkable for Dublin now is that they head into an All-Ireland semi-final after beating Tyrone, yet still as underdogs. And they do so against a Cork team who will shoulder the burden of pressure for this game simply because Kerry are out of the picture.

Cork, favourites among many including myself to land the Sam this year, will either push on and win it in Kerry's absence or the league champions will have to accept that their failure to do so in recent years wasn't just about Kerry.

Cork will have to take this step knowing that they have struggled all summer to find their best form and their best starting 15. That won't be easy. However, just as last week's contest was Tyrone's to lose, the first semi-final is Cork's to lose. They hold all the experience and motivation at this stage. They have to capitalise on the absence of their bogey team or suffer the long-term consequences.

Dublin on the other hand, are in bonus territory, as Pat Gilroy said, which loosely translated, means they are sensibly keeping a lid on expectations.

Keeping it real will be a big task for Kieran McGeeney also. Kildare is a county that can explode with hype, as we've seen in the past. While Kieran can't do anything about that, he will be pre-empting it with his players already.

To be honest, Kildare's performance was the best of last weekend and given their nightmare start, their achievement was all the more notable.

Ultimately it was their forwards who trumped Meath, particularly James Kavanagh and Johnny Doyle. It's sort of patronising just to say that McGeeney has them well drilled and that they are hard to play against. Their forwards were outstanding and if Kerry played that way, we'd be talking about a masterclass.

Down's display in dismantling an understrength Kerry was equally impressive. Outside of the Gooch, Kerry were awful and couldn't contend with Down's intensity.

Having travelled the back-door highway to quarter-final success, James McCartan has instilled the necessary belief and organisation into his side to put them in the shake-up.

Football goes in cycles and whether Kerry and Tyrone will regroup successfully from this season's setbacks, we won't know for another year. What we do know is that a new order has emerged, one led by the new wave of young, ambitious and hugely capable managers.

Ahead of that pack sits a Cork team now liberated from their obsession with their neighbours and one that should take the next step and win the All-Ireland. After last weekend's drama, would you bank on it?

Irish Independent

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