Thursday 18 January 2018

Resilience is biggest weapon in Dublin's armoury

Refusal to accept defeat outweighs skill, tactics and athleticism in 27-match unbeaten streak

The Dublin players in their team huddle before victory over Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
The Dublin players in their team huddle before victory over Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In his post-match press conference on Sunday, Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice was asked whether Kerry football had ever faced a greater challenge than the blue wave that has flattened them for a fourth successive championship game in Croke Park.

Fitzmaurice referenced the grip that Tyrone had on them in the last decade with three successive championship wins, before noting how Kerry struck back in Killarney in 2012 and again in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

"But this Dublin team is a different proposition," he added.

Kerry football has faced other big challenges to its supremacy and reputation in the past. The Down team that came with such charisma and new-fangled ideas about how to play the game beat them in 1960 and '68 finals, on top of the '61 semi-final but Kerry's response was to win the '62 and '69 finals.

Dublin too in the '70s and Cork in the late '80s and early '90s gave them sufficient trouble before order was restored. But this, as Fitzmaurice acknowledges is different.

So much is made of the largesse and the advantages that a team based in the capital city with access and strong connections to the biggest and best third level institutions.

The levels of skill, traditionally the bedrock of Kerry football that gave them such a healthy advantage over teams in the past, are such that Dublin corner-back Philly McMahon can pivot around at his ease and kick a score like he did in the second half on Sunday without breaking stride or looking out of place.


Brian Fenton's dexterity, Diarmuid Connolly's measurement for the last score, even the ball control of Cian O'Sullivan, once considered an athlete first, footballer second, are all setting this team apart.

But when history records their place in the game maybe it is their sheer resilience that should become their greatest trademark above all those other qualities and advantages, the primacy of simply busting a gut to win a game disguised too easily by the all too simple perception that there are in some way mere products of a system.

The desire not to yield, not to give an inch, is a trait on which so many great Kilkenny hurling victories have been built but Dublin are stockpiling their own catalogue of similar successes.

In an unbeaten streak that now stretches to 27 games, Dublin have been asked every possible question and have always come up with the required answers.

The mark of them is how they have chased down games that you think they could just as easily let go.

Earlier this year they trailed Cork by eight points at one stage in their fourth-round league game and went in at half-time seven points down. But their relentlessness in pursuit for the next 35 minutes and more in reining their opponents in said everything about them.

They hit nine unanswered points in the first 25 minutes after the restart that night to regain control and extend their unbeaten run to over a year.

Never once did they look panicked or stressed by what they faced, the perfect dry run for last Sunday.

The common consensus is that if James McCarthy had not tracked down Lee Keegan as he pulled the trigger to put Mayo five points clear in last year's All-Ireland semi-final replay, the Connacht champions would have kicked on to win.

Can we really say that now in light of last Sunday's effort to haul in a Kerry team leading by five points by relying on points alone?

Ciaran Kilkenny will spend much of his build-up to next month's All-Ireland final billeted in a Donegal Gaeltacht as part of his Masters in Education but outlined yesterday that he will commute to training using the nearby Donegal Airport.

It was his comments, however, in response to his decision to turn his back on an AFL career which perhaps encapsulate the driver in this Dublin team that is too often overlooked: their unbreakable spirit.

"I'm firmly happy with my decision. But it's not even about being successful," he said. "The thing that kind of reiterated that I made the right decision is the bond that you have with the lads on the team.

"It's such a special bond. Lads from different clubs in the county, how well we get on.

"We would literally do anything for each other. That itself is a special thing.

"We'll be lifelong friends. We'll be looking back when we're 70 or 80 years of age.

"They always say school is the best days of your life but it's the exact same thing playing with Dublin."

Irish Independent

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