Monday 16 September 2019

Martin Breheny: Scaremongers missing point over Dubs and football future

Gavin's men haven't won All-Ireland final yet so why the fears about long-term domination?

Mickey Harte has no reason to be embarrassed following Tyrone’s heavy loss to Jim Gavin’s Dublin. Photo: RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE
Mickey Harte has no reason to be embarrassed following Tyrone’s heavy loss to Jim Gavin’s Dublin. Photo: RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It has happened again, the instinctive rush to judgement where a game is given a status outlandishly disproportionate to its true worth.

The school for 'being so fiercely impressed by the last game I've seen that I can predict the future' needs additional prefabs this week as pupil numbers swell to unprecedented numbers.

It teaches that Dublin are certainties to not only complete the All-Ireland treble but remain at No 1 for as long as Jim Gavin decides, that the tactics applied by Tyrone will never be seen again on any football field and that Mickey Harte shouldn't leave his house due to the embarrassment over (a) having tried them and (b) making no quick adjustments when Dublin took an early lead last Sunday.

Oh yes, and football is in rag order apparently, with no signs of improvement. The simplicity of it all is comical.

As I was writing this column, an email dropped in from a bookmaking firm, carrying an interview with Owen Mulligan, where he described his former manager as "totally naive" over his approach last Sunday. Mulligan was of the opinion that a 12-point defeat in an All-Ireland semi-final "is crazy and a result an Ulster side would have got in Croke Park back in the 1980s."

Fake news, Owen. No Ulster side lost a championship game in Croke Park by that much in the 1980s. Still, anything goes when it's dump-on-Harte time so why bother with details?

Now, some teams have lost by wide margins in Croke Park and a lot more recently than the 1980s, Dublin being a prime example. Yes, the Dubs! So just as bad times don't last forever, neither do good times.


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Tyrone beat them by 12 points in the 2008 All-Ireland quarter-final, Kerry demolished them by 17 points at the same stage a year later and, in 2010, Meath hit them for five goals when winning the Leinster semi-final by 11 points.

I recall the then-Dublin manager Pat Gilroy remarking after the Meath game that there was more to the squad than that and a strong reaction could be expected.

Few believed him, but actually his comments turned out to be something of an understatement. Fifteen months later, Dublin were All-Ireland champions and they have since added three more titles.

Since losing to Meath by 5-9 to 0-13 in June 2010, Dublin have played 46 SFC games, winning 40, drawing two and losing four.

Who would have foreseen that in the immediate aftermath of the Royal rout? Gilroy and his squad took heavy criticism from Dublin supporters, yet 14 of the 18 players who featured against Kerry in the 2011 final were aboard against Meath the year before.

Try making that case for Tyrone now in terms of what the future holds and you will be laughed at. But then that's what always happens in situations like this.

There's also a view abroad that Dublin are pulling further clear of their pursuers all the time. Time will tell, but isn't it best to reserve judgement until we see how the final goes?

Mayo haven't beaten Dublin in five attempts in semi-finals and finals over the last four seasons but they came extremely close.

In fact, they drew twice, Dublin had two one-point wins and a seven-point success, the latter giving a totally lop-sided representation of the action in the 2015 semi-final replay, which Mayo led by four points before being overpowered in the last quarter.

By any standards, that's an intense rivalry so Mayo have every reason to be optimistic.

Now if Mayo can come so close to Dublin - as they have repeatedly - are they well clear of the rest too?

Clearly not, since they have lost to Galway in the last two Connacht Championships and drawn with Derry, Cork, Roscommon and Kerry this year.

They won all four - the first two in extra-time, the next two in replays - but the close calls first time around, plus the defeats by Galway, suggests that the Mayo aren't way ahead of the rest (bar Dublin).

As for tactical set-ups, we have been repeatedly told that Tyrone's experience last Sunday signed the death warrant for a packed defence. Another rush to unsubstantiated judgements.

It didn't work for Tyrone because they were up against technically better players who performed near the peak of their powers.

Dublin packed their defence too when Tyrone were in possession but didn't concede as much because there were playing better individually.

A hand here, a flick there, quicker anticipation and sharper tackling combined to shepherd Tyrone down Frustration Row. Better players, not better tactics won the game.


Dublin have set high standards but that should be welcomed, not portrayed as if it's creating a problem for football. Even if Dublin complete the treble, so what?

Kilkenny hurlers did that and a lot more for a long time but the rest of the hurling world didn't complain about how unfair it was that Cat-country remained single-game land where they didn't have to accommodate football. Instead, they set about working as hard as they could to catch Cody's men.

It happened eventually too and we now have a healthy situation that when the draw for the hurling championships are made next month, at least nine counties will believe they have a chance of winning the 2018 All-Ireland.

Football has had too many lopsided games this year but that doesn't mean it's in irrevocable decline. Yes, it has rule issues that need to be addressed but in terms of competitiveness, gaps can be closed if hard, focused work is undertaken across all counties.

Better that than listening to the whining brigade.


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