Saturday 25 May 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Dubs must be braced for five-in-a-row mind games'

Opposing managers are already ramping up pressure in attempt to unsettle Gavin's men

Dubs on the march: Jonny Cooper leads the Dubs in the parade on All-Ireland final day last year – the Hill 16 faithful will expect more of the same this year. Photo: Sportsfile
Dubs on the march: Jonny Cooper leads the Dubs in the parade on All-Ireland final day last year – the Hill 16 faithful will expect more of the same this year. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Jim Gavin would have known it was coming, so now the challenge is how to deal with the opposition's mixture of flattery and mischief.

Mickey Harte traded in both this week, describing Dublin's great success in recent years as "amazing", before going on to mention "the pressure on them" as they attempt to create history as the first All-Ireland five-in-a-row winners.

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"There will be a lot of talk about the five-in-a-row and there will be a lot of anticipation as to whether they can make another bit of history. So let's hope history weighs heavily on their shoulders," said Harte.

They can expect more of the same in the coming months as opponents attempt to turn the historic dimension of Dublin's season into a burden designed to drag them down.

It's worth a shot, even if it's unlikely to hit the target. Any Dublin player allowed out for interview - and there won't be many - will be coached to the last syllable on the five-in-a-row. It will be as if they didn't even consider it until the subject was raised.

Everyone knows that's pure guff, but it will be the chosen means of publicly dealing with the question of how Dublin are addressing a challenge that beat five others (football: Wexford 1919, Kerry 1933 and 1982; hurling Cork 1945, Kilkenny 2010).

Diarmuid Connolly (pictured) and Rory O’Carroll have both lined out for their clubs, prompting talk of a Dublin return
Diarmuid Connolly (pictured) and Rory O’Carroll have both lined out for their clubs, prompting talk of a Dublin return

Inevitably, the pressure associated with a five-in-a-row pursuit will be blamed if Dublin are beaten this summer. You will read and hear about how there were various signs along the way, starting with the failure to reach the Allianz League final for the first time since 2012. And so it will go from there, with other instances also being highlighted, even if they are totally irrelevant.

Dublin will, in all probability, handle the pressure quite well. It's something they can control, despite attempts by opposition to exploit the possibility that a date with history will drain individuals. A far bigger risk to Dublin rests in the unmanageable, as Kerry footballers (1982) and Kilkenny hurlers (2010) discovered.

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Injuries made an unwelcome intervention in both cases. Kerry lost Jimmy Deenihan (broken leg) and Kilkenny took a double hit when Brian Hogan was sidelined for the final while Henry Shefflin was forced out in the first quarter with a recurrence of a knee injury.

Shefflin was generally regarded as a bigger loss, but that may not have been the case. Centre-back Hogan was in his prime at the time and despite Kilkenny's vast resources they were unable to adequately replace him. They remained vulnerable in the No 6 area for most of the way in the final, with Tipperary powering through the gaps and running in four goals.

Rory O’Carroll
Rory O’Carroll

Deenihan's leg break in summer 1982 left Kerry without their dogged corner-back, a loss which Mick O'Dwyer believes was crucial in the defeat by Offaly, which they lost to a late goal.

"Had Deenihan been playing in the final, his natural corner-back instincts would have taken him behind Seamus Darby under that dropping ball and the chances are that he would have broken it away, as he used to do so often," O'Dwyer wrote in his autobiography.

He also referenced how Pat Spillane, Mikey Sheehy and Ger Power were all carrying various injuries, which hampered them. That's the equivalent of Philly McMahon missing Dublin's campaign this year and Ciarán Kilkenny, Dean Rock and Paul Mannion all carrying injuries.

Gavin can't legislate for what the gods have in store, but covering every eventuality will figure on his priority list. That almost certainly includes restoring Diarmuid Connolly and Rory O'Carroll to the panel.

Fitness

Connolly wasn't aboard last year and hasn't started a championship match since the Leinster quarter-final against Carlow in June 2017, but if his fitness reaches the required levels, his vast experience could be invaluable in a campaign where Dublin will be required to play a minimum of eight games to win the title.

O'Carroll last played for Dublin in 2015, but is back with Kilmacud Crokes after a spell overseas.

Still only 29 and with years of specialist full-back experience, he could re-emerge as a vital figure in the defensive set-up.

Just as outsiders are trying to heap pressure on Dublin, Gavin will be working towards swatting it away in all their internal workings. Provided Connolly and O'Carroll are going well, it would make sense to restore them to the squad for the biggest adventure in the county's football history.

Their know-how could be vital if the fates attempt to undermine Dublin in the same way as they did with Kerry and Kilkenny in their five-in-a-row attempts.

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