Tuesday 15 October 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Dublin have it easier than any other drive-for-five hopefuls'

Dublin celebrate All Ireland title in 2018
Dublin celebrate All Ireland title in 2018
Jim Gavin. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If John Kiely had time to step away from checking the Limerick circuit board for blown fuses, he might well feel a pang of envy over what's confronting him in the pursuit of an All-Ireland hurling double, compared with Jim Gavin's experience as he takes Dublin footballers out on the five-in-a-row adventure.

First up for Limerick were Cork, reigning Munster champions, a team that had beaten Kiely's men in the Allianz League and drawn twice with them in last year's championship.

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First up for Dublin are Louth, ranked 20th in the country in this year's league. They haven't beaten Dublin in the championship for 46 years, losing 14 times in the meantime by an average of nine points.

Limerick will follow up with games against top contenders Waterford, Clare and Tipperary, while, provided Dublin aren't struck down with a serious virus on Saturday, their next opponents will be Kildare, ranked 12th in the league, or Longford, who finished 21st.

Dublin will, of course, have home advantage in Croke Park for that game and in the Leinster final, where the highest-ranked opposition they can meet is Meath, who won promotion to Division 1 in March after 13 years outside the top flight.

It's fairly safe to say that there's no serious threat to Dublin's five-in-a-row bid in Leinster. And even if a freakish intervention somehow derailed them, they would be straight back on track in the qualifiers.

Different times indeed. There were no safety nets for any of the five previous five-in-a-row contenders in football or hurling. Wexford footballers were taken out by Dublin in the 1919 Leinster semi-final and Cork hurlers suffered a similar fate against Tipperary in the 1945 Munster semi-final.

Kerry footballers reached the 1933 All-Ireland semi-final, where they lost to Cavan. Mick O'Dwyer's mighty Kingdom powerhouse took their five-in-a-row bid all the way to the final in 1982, where they were beaten by a late Offaly goal. In 2010, Kilkenny hurlers also reached the final, only to have the dream shattered by a Tipperary's goal-fest.

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The introduction of the 'Super 8s' has also been a help to Dublin's big ambitions. The possibility of being eliminated in a knockout quarter-final was much higher than in four-team round robin, with two to reach the semi-finals. It means effectively that if Dublin are to be denied a place in history, it will happen in either the semi-final or final.

Who could be the ones to end the great mission? Unlike hurling where there are nine counties capable of beating each other on a given day, football's All-Ireland contender list is relatively short.

Kerry? Yes. In fact, they are the most likely of all to stop Dublin. Winning All-Irelands is in the DNA, the importance of which should not be forgotten amid all the scientific mumbo-jumbo that's spouted these days.

Tyrone? Yes. There's a doggedness about Mickey Harte and his teams that should not be underestimated.

Mayo? Maybe. Winning the league has sent their stature soaring again, but caution is warranted. This, after all, was the league where Dublin lost to Monaghan, who have since won only one of seven games. And what was it Gavin said after Dublin beat Galway in Round 2? Something about "just getting into pre-season mode". That gave an clear insight into Dublin's league ambitions and how they fitted into the training schedule for the five-in-a-row bid.

The league win will have boosted Mayo's confidence, but since they haven't even won Connacht for the past three years, judgement on their All-Ireland prospects is best reserved for now.

Galway? Maybe. But only if they unleash the attacking side of their game and have a go. If the plan involves Shane Walsh and some other exciting forwards spending much time deep in their half, there's no All-Ireland in them.

Donegal? Maybe. They work off a solidity that gives them a chance.

Anyone else? No.

Gavin and his fellow-strategists will analyse all the main opposition (they don't have to worry about the rest) in minute detail as the summer rumbles on, no doubt reaching the conclusion that if they get their own game right, Sam Maguire stays where he is.

That's where the imponderables come in, the unforeseen interventions than can change everything.

Kilkenny appeared to be locked on course for the five-in-a-row in 2010 until Henry Shefflin and Brian Hogan picked up serious injuries in the semi-final. Hogan missed the final and Shefflin didn't last long.

Now, Kilkenny were without one of the most underrated centre-backs in modern history, while possibly the best hurler of all time was also on the bench. Not even such a great squad could cope with that double-hit.

What if Dublin lost any two from Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny, James McCarthy, Dean Rock, Jack McCaffrey? Gavin won't be dwelling on anything over which he has no control, but he knows the risks that are out there. And if history has shown anything, it's that the gods tend to grow very mischievous whenever the five-in-a-row becomes a live possibility.

Why are Sligo in Round 2 qualifiers?

The line-up for the first round of the football qualifiers will be finalised this weekend when Leinster and Ulster complete their quarter-final programmes, leaving 16 counties from the four provinces heading into Monday morning's draw.

Teams defeated in the first round and quarter-finals compete in Round 1, with the eight winners facing the eight beaten semi-finalists in Round 2. At first glance, that seems fair enough. However, since two counties in Munster and one in Connacht receive byes into their semi-finals, it means they can get into Round 2 of the qualifiers without winning any game.

Sligo, who lost heavily to Galway, are already booked into Round 2, whereas eight others have to win a game to reach the second stage. It's a design flaw in the qualifiers, since Sligo will have done nothing to get there except lose a game.

Having been relegated from Division 3 this year, they are going through a bad time at present, but surely they would be better off in Round 1 rather than being catapulted directly into the more competitive Round 2.

Backrooms no longer a minor matter

Here goes then. A manager (Diarmuid Mullins), three coaches, three stats men, a doctor, a physio, a strength and conditioning coach, a kit man and a liaison officer.

No, it's not the backroom team for an international squad or even a senior inter-county panel, but rather the group in charge of the Limerick minor hurlers.

Twelve in all, and there they were looking very happy in the picture in last Sunday's match programme in the Gaelic Grounds.

It shows where modern-day management has gone, even at minor level, and makes you wonder how teams managed in the past.

Irish Independent

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