Thursday 21 March 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Mayo must go for Dublin's jugular to end League hopes'

If Horan's men win, Gavin will be facing a different dynamic to the last six seasons

Jonny Cooper of Dublin and Andy Moran of Mayo tussle off the ball during the 2017 All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonny Cooper of Dublin and Andy Moran of Mayo tussle off the ball during the 2017 All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Honestly, if we didn't know Mick O'Dwyer and the Kerry players better, the obvious conclusion to be reached at the start of their five-in-a-row chasing season in 1982 was that they were deliberately trying to get eliminated from the National League.

Micko and his men weren't exactly noted for their devotion to the League, but even by their standards of indifference for winter/spring action, their final Division 1 group game against Cork in 1982 stood out.

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They needed to win to stay in contention for a knock-out place and looked as surprised as everyone else when they managed it after scoring only five points against Cork in Killarney. They won because a woeful Cork performance yielded only four points (there were some awful games back then too, even between top teams), but since the Rebels had done better earlier on they finished level on points with Kerry.

Prolific

Bizarrely, play-offs, rather than scoring difference, decided placings among teams on the same number of points so, following a toss for venue, it was back to Killarney a week later for another Cork-Kerry clash.

Kerry were no more prolific this time, again finishing on 0-5 while much-improved Cork scored 0-12.

Guess what? Kerry still weren't eliminated, instead being shunted into a preliminary quarter-final, surely the ultimate oddity in a League competition. It was as if at that stage they couldn't take any more of the shadow-boxing and after some fine-tuning they powered their way to the title, beating Cork in a replay.

It was only Kerry's second League title win in eight seasons and four months later, the five-in-a-row dream was shattered by Offaly, who had been their closest pursuers for a few years.

There was no obvious connection between League success and All-Ireland failure, but, inevitably, ones were made along the lines that Kerry would have been better off disappearing from sight in February to concentrate on the five-in-a-row bid.

Listening to Jim Gavin, who has five-in-a-row ambitions to ponder, you wonder if he's calibrating Dublin's season differently to the six previous ones he has presided over.

As five titles and a runners-up slot show, he has successfully targeted the League as a major spring priority over the last six years.

But then they weren't bidding for a place in history in any of those seasons. However much they try to disguise it, this year is different for Dublin in a championship where they can achieve something never previously done in football or hurling.

Gavin described Dublin as "just getting into pre-season mode" after beating Galway in the second round of the League last Saturday week. Last Saturday, he reminded everyone Dublin were only four weeks back in training and that "Kerry have a lot of work done, fitness levels would be very different" after the defeat in Tralee.

He also said that the game would bring Dublin on quite significantly, referring to it as "another step on our journey, getting ourselves ready for the championship".

And the League? He's on a winner here in terms of perception, if not necessarily reality. If pre-season-mode Dublin can beat All-Ireland semi-finalists by 11 points and run much-fitter Kerry to a point, the message is clear: wait until we are fully tuned.

And if they don't reach the League final, it will be put down to their late arrival to pre-season work by comparison with rivals who were sweating in gyms and running through muddy fields while Dublin were sipping cocktails and cruising on an exotic holiday.

Still, there's no doubt that it will be a big boost to the opposition if Dublin miss out on the League final for the first time since 2012. That's where Mayo come in because it's effectively in their hands to make it happen.

If Mayo beat Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday week, Dublin would need to win their last three games to reach eight points. Mayo would already be on that target and with Kerry having won their first three games, it would take a freakish sequence of results for eight points to be enough to secure a place in the final.

It's over to Mayo, then, in the first big test of James Horan's second coming. He presided over wins against Dublin in the 2012 League and All-Ireland semi-final, but since then the pendulum has been swinging in an all-blue direction.

It's 10-0 to Dublin, with three draws, during Gavin's reign. In ordinary circumstances, that would be enough to fire Mayo's motivation levels for Saturday week's clash, but there's an even greater incentive now to become the team that effectively ends Dublin's interest in the League.

And since Mayo haven't won a national title since the 2001 League, it would greatly increase their chances of ending the barren run if Dublin were gone, rather than being in a position to force their way back into contention.

The next ten days are more important for Gavin, Horan and indeed the other main contenders than any or all of them will acknowledge in a year when winning the five-in-a-row is everything for Dublin and preventing it tops all agendas elsewhere.

There's no doubt that it will be a big boost to the opposition if Dublin miss out on the League final for the first time since 2012.

'Sixty days of training for sixty minutes of football' is farcical

Kieran Fitzgerald is right. Playing the All-Ireland senior club semi-finals and finals in February/March is unfair on players, who have to put so much hard work in for one or two games, depending on how they fare in the semi-finals.

"Sixty days of training for sixty minutes of football. It's too long to wait for so little football," said the 38-year-old Corofin defender.

Proposals to complete the All-Ireland club championships before Christmas, which were mooted quite some time ago, haven't advanced very much so it looks as if there will be no change in the short term at least. Apart from being unfair on players, it hits four counties in football and hurling as they are without top names from their best club for most, if not all, of the Allianz League.

That can make a huge difference in a competition that often has an important bearing on the entire year.

Conjecture and rumour - it's just about everywhere

Here's what Jim Gavin had to say after the Dublin-Kerry game about media reports that Jason Sherlock was no longer part of the Dublin backroom team: "Why journalists, or how they report on conjecture and rumour... that's your profession, not mine, so I can't comment on that."

Presumably, the Dubs boss wasn't impressed. Jayo was, of course, very much part of the Dublin set-up last Saturday night, although not for earlier games. As for 'conjecture and rumour', it can be found just about anywhere.

Indeed, the media have to deal regularly with a version that emanates from the Dublin camp itself. How often have teams been announced on Friday night or Saturday morning, yet by Sunday changes are made? It reduces the announcements to the status of 'conjecture and rumour' as far as the public are concerned. Strangely enough, Dublin don't make any issue about that. But then they wouldn't, would they, given that they themselves are behind it.

Irish Independent

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