Tuesday 12 December 2017

Summer structure needs to be torn apart

Exposing gulf in class does no good for anyone

Dublin substitute Eoghan O’Gara smashes his team’s second goal into the net. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Dublin substitute Eoghan O’Gara smashes his team’s second goal into the net. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

And so to the next stage of the Dublin decline. Or else the inevitable next step in the irreversible decline of what we are constantly reminded was once a glorious Leinster Football Championship.

Hobbled by insecurities in front of goal, hampered by advancing old age and handicapped by the self-imposed absence of their flawed genius - albeit accelerated gleefully by an agog, pitchfork-wielding mob - the crown upon Jim Gavin's men has seemed for all the world like one bedecked in thorns.

Their sluggishness against Carlow, accompanied by the rare absence of a green flag and the controversy surrounding Diarmuid Connolly seeing red, were produced as arguments for a prosecution against a successful Dublin defence of their All-Ireland realm.

Those limp arguments were rendered as flaccid as Westmeath's third successive - and weakest - attempt to derail the Dubs in a provincial campaign whose irrelevance has accelerated yearly since Páidí Ó Sé heaved the Lake County towards their greatest hour here in 2004.


Of course, the entire football edifice is already being re-constructed, the much-vaunted Super 8s ushering in a promised era of elitism to finally cast aside any pretensions that egalitarianism can ever survive in the modern era.

Dublin's advance to another Leinster final - and a presumed title, for all of Kildare's pretensions - on the back of two facile successes against Division 4 teams surely ends the argument.

The Championship structure needs to be torn apart; the provincial championships need to be tiered apart; or, at the very least, their status in terms of advancing the Championship contenders severely downgraded.

"Definitely, it should be," says Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin when asked if this latest whipping advanced the cause for a Championship re-structure.

"People say weaker teams don't want to play one another. Maybe the winners should be re-introduced back into it at a later stage; 16 counties would have an unbelievable bonus and they could win a lot of matches.

"The jump in standards is a massive, massive leap. It depends on how attractive they make the secondary competition - play it on days like today and don't have minor matches on the same day.

"There has to be a serious carrot at the end of it with the winners getting into the Sam Maguire. It doesn't mean getting rid of provincials. It's not easy to suit everyone."

Some will argue that punters were over-charged for yesterday's fare, even if the vast majority of the 33,000 wallowed in the precise and clinical, often decorative beauty of one of the greatest teams this sport has ever produced.

Dominance in sport can often promulgate a jealous suspicion; there are those who view the success of Aidan O'Brien and Willie Mullins with a jaundiced eye, ignoring their relentless excellence.

There comes a time when it is not the incompetence or the inability of the opposition that is questioned, rather than the sustained excellence and ability of the supreme.

Dublin are victims of their own success. The GAA's problem has been how to address the advancing claims of a mere handful of Championship contenders while retaining an archaic system that is predicated upon a redundant sense of all things being equal.

Yesterday demonstrated that things are not equal, because Dublin are so superior; the dilemma for the GAA and the Leinster Council is that, aside from Gavin's men, the standards across Leinster are actually reasonably competitive.

As Dublin have streaked ahead, their erstwhile rivals have declined and yesterday demonstrated once more that the most strident opposition to Dublin within the province comes from internal training sessions.

That much can be gleaned from the ruthless nature of a display that advanced the claims of a changing guard as Gavin throws down the gauntlet to a hungrier, younger generation of boys in blue.

As Michael Darragh Macauley joined Connolly and others in absentia, and the multi-medalled Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan sat on the bench, Con O'Callaghan chose this day to announce his outstanding claims.

It took him 16 seconds to clip an intelligent point, garnering more space in this time than in the entire claustrophobic exercise against Carlow, as Westmeath's players, faithfully but fatefully, declared their intentions to nullify any sense of caution from management and "have a go".

O'Callaghan worked a position to win his side's first free; then, as freely proficient off his left as his right, he burst past young Paul Sharry to kick his second point as Dublin unfurled football in a symphonic slow-quick-slow format.

He should have volleyed a goal from an Eric Lowndes pass; the expert hurler used to play soccer in Michael Fitzsimons' back garden but his multi-skilled excellence deserted him momentarily.

He remained unbowed; a feint one way, then another, secured his third point from a prodigious first-half display which saw him drift deep at times, almost aping the absent Connolly's effectiveness as a marauding play-maker.

Late in the second half, he would be replaced by Brian Howard; scholarly watchers of the Dubs would proclaim that his talent is even more assured than that of the man he briefly supplanted.

Brogan - also declining, we are told - came on and at one stage advanced into the rare territory of land in front of his goalkeeper to field an errant incoming missile.

He and Dublin will inevitably win another Leinster title in three weeks' time, but how many more under a current format clearly not fit for purpose?

Irish Independent

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