O'Dowd: 'Dublin are well ahead of us – no excuses'
O'Dowd rues destructive force of Blue wave as Gavin tries to play down rising expectancy
THE world sits gaping, so we gather in that little media auditorium under the Hogan Stand, frisking Mick O'Dowd down for nuggets of enlightenment.
All we can do with Dublin now is hyperbolise how high they soar. It is the refuge of the lost. Mick isn't a melodramatic man and his subsequent return to our company with a biting allegation is about as open as he is willing to swing a door into his private self. At that moment, we read fury in his eyes, the faint quiver of disbelief in his voice.
But O'Dowd's normal setting is to come at the day calm as a librarian in a track-suit. So the alleged bite of Mickey Burke's finger becomes a late distraction that, momentarily, shorts the fuses everywhere.
"Extremely disappointed," says O'Dowd, before quickly slipping back to his team, the charge left hanging in the ether like a threat of thunder rather than the actual sound.
Nobody else knows anything it seems, albeit the middle finger of Burke's left hand is conspicuously bandaged as he climbs aboard the Meath team bus, politely declining all invitations to talk.
Perhaps Meath should be relieved at the commotion, taking – as it does – a little scrutiny away from the fine detail of slaughter. So much of the build-up fixated upon their proud tradition as if salty old soldiers like Mick Lyons or Liam Harnan or Kevin Foley might become available for battle, as if by late proxy.
That team of the late 80s was cut from a stone that would not have allowed them countenance losing to Dublin by 16 points.
O'Dowd knows those quarries are obsolete now. His Meath team comes wired instead with pace and, reputedly, high intelligence. They don't go toe-to-toe with teams, they look to run around them. But, yesterday, that was like trying to run around an ocean.
He mentions that disallowed goal in the 25th minute, Stephen Bray's blinding finish denied to Meath because of a whistle already blown for a Rory O'Carroll foul. They trailed by six at the time and, seconds later, Alan Brogan stretched it to seven.
But, as O'Dowd puts it, "You obviously wouldn't say it was the difference, because it wasn't. But, at that moment in the game, we wanted to withstand the onslaught that would come."
The onslaught that would come...
Even opponents now talk about Dublin differently. Playing them seems to have become like waiting for a hurricane to hit the shore.
"We knew that they would show us huge respect from the progress that we've been making," said O'Dowd. "We were expecting one of their best displays of the summer, which I think they gave.
"But we were bitterly disappointed with our performance, because I don't think it reflected us properly.
"Look, there's a gap in terms of the physicality and intensity that you have to be comfortable playing at, as a unit.
"I think some Meath players gave outstanding displays but, as a collective, Dublin had a higher standard. For us to improve and develop we have to become a top-eight team, where each individual is comfortable playing at that level."
Sobering to think, then, how Kildare talked of being "shocked" by Meath's intensity in the semi-final. On this evidence, the rest of Leinster might as well resort to prayer and the bulk-buying of miraculous medals.
Had Dublin improved on last year?
"Possibly," said O'Dowd. "I'd say there might have been an element of surprise in our performance to them last year (when the margin was seven points) which wasn't there this year.
"I think they are probably a step on from last year looking at them. They were quite clinical. I know there were a couple more chances they could have took.
"We weren't as clinical as we needed to be, we needed to take every chance. We needed every decision to go our way and a crucial one didn't, as you know. But that's not an excuse. We're not making excuses."
Dublin's average winning margin in this Leinster Championship has been 14 points. Had they been more ruthless yesterday, it could have been anything. Kevin McManamon and Dean Rock both struck woodwork and there were times, in the first half particularly, that Dublin's power almost threatened goals at will.
Even with the benefit of action replay, it was difficult to know which Brogan got the first after a McManamon effort came back off the post. "Bit of luck, bit of the rub of the green, they got it, we didn't," sighed Meath goalkeeper, Paddy O'Rourke.
It meant the Royals went in, nine points down and – frankly – already beaten. Michael Darragh Macauley was a one-man sun dance in this period but, as Dublin subsequently stretched for home, the whole place began to thunder with ambivalence.
The Dubs were already 12 clear before Jim Gavin turned for his first substitute (Rock), McManamon's 39th-minute goal having jettisoned any notions that Meath still had a beating pulse. And, thereafter, it was all a little ragged and disappointing.
As Paul Flynn put it: "It was good for maybe 50 minutes, but the last 15 minutes we probably took the foot off the gas a little and were a bit wasteful. When the intensity dropped, then we made a few errors.
"But I suppose we were so far ahead then we nearly took our eye off the ball a bit."
You tell yourself Dublin-Meath should never be like this, a game played out with audible rumbling in the background.
But this is what Gavin's Dublin do. They break teams. They devour teams physically. They get inside your skin and spook you.
"Some fellas didn't seem to have the same energy that they had the last day against Kildare," said O'Dowd.
"Perhaps that's a nervousness although I didn't sense that before the game. But, when you're coming up against a team where everyone is comfortable at playing at that intensity, if one two or three on our side are not, then it can be a domino effect at times.
"They're a very impressive team and squad. They seem to be building on what they've achieved last year. I suppose it's hard to say. They're well ahead of us as you've seen there how much further ahead of other teams is hard to gauge at this time."
Eoghan O'Gara struck a wonderful third goal on the hour, escaping Eoghan Harrington with an explosive burst and snapping a wonderful, far-corner finish beyond O'Rourke's reach. That made it 3-19 to 0-8. Seconds later, Rock jabbed the ball against a Canal-end post when it seemed easier to score and, almost instantly, Michael Newman rolled a goal home in front of the Hill.
For Gavin, you sense those little wrinkles trigger agitation.
"You'd look at the last quarter of the game, when we probably did lose some concentration and some of our shot selection wasn't what it should have been," he said coldly. "But we need to say very little to this group. They're a very motivated bunch of men.
"The players are driving the agenda. A player-centric approach is being taken and that performance was led by them for the last number of weeks. But we're into pure championship now, there are no guarantees."
Perhaps not quite how the rest us will read it.