Thursday 14 December 2017

'No problem for Dubs to step up to biggest test'

Jack Sheedy shakes Jim Gavin’s hand after Longford’s defeat at the hands of Dublin in the Leinster SFC quarter-final
Jack Sheedy shakes Jim Gavin’s hand after Longford’s defeat at the hands of Dublin in the Leinster SFC quarter-final
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Twelve counties have tried and 11 have failed, leaving Donegal as the only Championship winners over Dublin in 15 games since the start of the 2013 season.

It's a very impressive record, especially since many of the victories have been by wide margins. No Leinster opposition has come any closer than seven points in that period, with the gap stretching out to 27 points against Longford in this year's provincial quarter-final.

"There wasn't a whole lot we could do that day. Wherever you looked, Dublin had big advantages. Unfortunately, that's the way it was for us," said Longford manager Jack Sheedy, a former colleague of Dublin boss Jim Gavin.

Kildare fared no better, sustaining their biggest ever Championship defeat (19 points) by Dublin in the semi-final.

"You'll always struggle against Dublin if you don't get your own game working well," said Kildare manager Jason Ryan.

It was Westmeath's turn in the Leinster final and while their defensive structure kept them competitive in the first half, two quick Dublin goals settled the contest.

It also left Westmeath with the choice of chasing the game and risking a morale-sapping thrashing or retaining their defensive alignment in a damage-limitation exercise.

They opted for the latter, eventually losing by 2-13 to 0-6.

"We wanted to avoid losing by a very big margin at all costs. If Dublin get a run on you, they can pull so far out of sight you don't see them. You learn nothing from that," said Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin.

Sheedy, Ryan and Cribbin all experienced Dublin up so close and personal that they have a real appreciation of the task facing Mayo on Sunday.

The Connacht champions are, of course, much better equipped for the Dublin challenge than Longford, Kildare or Westmeath, which presents Gavin and his fellow strategists with much bigger challenges than they encountered in Leinster or against Fermanagh in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

The big question now is whether Dublin are better prepared than at the same stage last year when they faced Donegal.


"It's hard to say. Dublin struggled with the blanket defence (against Donegal) but Mayo don't play that type of game," said Ryan.

"Mayo will be the first team Dublin have met in the Championship who press high up the pitch and who have marquee forwards and defenders that get forward really effectively.

"Mayo have been a top team for some years now. They know what's it's like to be at the business end of the season. These guys are well capable of playing the game as they see it."

An intriguing aspect of Sunday's clash will be how Dublin deal with Aidan O'Shea, whose deployment as a demolition force close to the opposition goal has been one of the big successes of the season.

Cribbin expects Dublin to play a sweeper in an attempt to cut off the ground supply-lines to O'Shea. And when Mayo seek to use his aerial strength, he can expect plenty of attention.

"I'd put Cian O'Sullivan on him. They will probably go with Rory O'Carroll, but O'Sullivan won't be far away. Obviously, the aim will be to stop O'Shea making those high catches that he does so well and when the ball goes to ground, O'Sullivan is quicker on to it than O'Carroll," said Cribbin.

He rates Dublin ahead of Mayo and Kerry in the race for All-Ireland glory and believes they have learned a lot from the mistakes which undermined them against Donegal last year.

"No question, they are better defensively. I know people say that that will only be proven if they deliver against the likes of Mayo or Kerry, but I certainly believe it to be the case.

"They push up on the opposition very quickly now - they don't give you much room. And they have strength everywhere," said Cribbin.

Ryan doesn't believe that it's all about O'Shea in the Mayo attack.

"He has been doing very well but a lot depends on how the ball is played into him and how Dublin deal with it. Whatever happens there, it won't all come down to how well O'Shea does. The other Mayo forwards - particularly the O'Connors - are capable of causing havoc too with the right supply," said Ryan.

Sheedy believes that O'Shea's new role this year has given the other Mayo forwards more freedom.

"It has worked on the double for Mayo. O'Shea's power has caused all sorts of problems for defences and also left Mayo less reliant on the likes of Cillian O'Connor, which is good for him and the rest of them," he said.

"Dublin will be trying to cut off the supply to O'Shea, making him and the others re-think their game. Will he have to come out the field in search of possession?

"The Dublin half-forwards will have a huge role to play too. The likes of Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins are very effective when they get forward and the more often that happens, the more likely good ball is to be played in towards O'Shea," said Sheedy.

While Dublin powered through Leinster on an unhindered run, they conceded 2-15 against Fermanagh in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

"It's not what they would have wanted but, at the same time, it was a loud wake-up call heading into a semi-final," said Sheedy.

Those who are more sceptical about Dublin's real worth reckons it could be part of a wider malaise and that the lack of really tough games leaves them vulnerable.

Ryan remains unconvinced by that argument, pointing out the intense competition for places on the starting 15 is of immense benefit.

"It's the same with Kerry. When you see the calibre of forwards they can bring in off the bench, you know how intense the training must be. They all want to start. It's the same in Dublin," he said.

Cribbin reckons that the best is yet to come from Dublin.

"They would have felt from the start that they weren't going to be beaten in Leinster and the same applied when they drew Fermanagh in the quarter-final. It's different now. Mayo have been among the All-Ireland favourites all along.

"It's a step up for Dublin but they have showed before that they are well capable of making it," he said.

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