Tuesday 20 February 2018

The Great Debate: Will Dublin and Mayo's easy ride to provincial glory work against them?

Mayo captain Keith Higgins lifts the Nestor Cup after his side’s rout of Sligo in the Connacht final
Mayo captain Keith Higgins lifts the Nestor Cup after his side’s rout of Sligo in the Connacht final
Dublin skipper Stephen Cluxton raises the Delaney Cup after his team’s easy win over Westmeath

Donnchadh Boyle and Martin Breheny

Yes says Donnchadh Boyle - It’s only common sense. What’s better? Being pushed to your limits or winning games comfortably?

The former is obviously the best way to progress.

Results show that to be true - just look at last year's championship. Dublin waltz through Leinster and their All-Ireland quarter-final. Up to that stage, their smallest winning margin was 11 points.

They had it all their own way and the only question being asked was how many All-Irelands in a row they could win. Even if that was hyperbolic, when Donegal came asking questions, they fell apart.

Not only did they lose the game, they recorded their smallest score of the year and they also failed to find the net for the first time in the championship.

To make sure they aren't caught cold by the kind of system Donegal and others might employ this year, Dublin were playing challenge games against the likes of Armagh in the midst of their Leinster campaign.

The same logic can be applied to Donegal's following game too. Having ran out six-point winners in their semi-final in a manner far more comfortable than anyone expected, they were caught short in the decider by Kerry. It extends further too. What had Kerry come into the final on the back off? A replayed semi-final that went to extra time.

Going back to Dublin's case their continual failures on the national stage in the 2000s were often blamed on their lack of competition in Leinster.

In 2011, they won their provincial semi-final and final by a single score. By the end of September, Pat Gilroy's side were crowned All-Ireland champions for the first time since 1995.

Mayo's 'domestic' record speaks for itself. Five times in a row now they have come out on top in Connacht. It's an extraordinary dominance and one that marks this Mayo side as one of the best to come out of the county.

But still they haven't managed to climb to the summit. In this year's Connacht final, they had a game on their hands for just six minutes.

After that there was no competition to speak of as they ran in a frankly ridiculous total of 6-25 in a championship game of real significance.

Would Dublin and Mayo swap their position with Kerry who, like those two, are in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

But the crucial difference is they were pushed to the pin of their collars once and Eamonn Fitzmaurice knows his side have the stomach to dig themselves out of a corner when the need arises.

Dublin and Mayo are set to get their first real test when there is no safety net to fall back on. It's high wire stuff as the championship moves into the serious stuff.

No says Martin Breheny

Let's briefly ignore Dublin and Mayo and inspect the history of a far more potent force: Kilkenny hurlers.

They won four successive All-Ireland titles in 2006-2009, a period in which they swept to victory in 14 Leinster championship games by an average of 13 points.

They were presented with no real provincial test in 2006-08, yet powered on to All-Ireland glory. Clearly, the easy run in Leinster didn't have a negative impact.

They won the All-Ireland again in 2009 after closer calls against Galway (their first season in Leinster) and resurgent Dublin.

Since then, Kilkenny have usually had to work hard in Leinster and even experienced defeat in 2012 and 2013. Mind you, they still won All-Irelands in 2011-12-14.

Bottom line? Kilkenny won All-Irelands in years when they weren't extended in Leinster and in seasons when they were. No change then.

Now, let's returns to Dublin and Mayo, easy winners in Leinster and Connacht respectively in recent seasons.

Much has been made of Dublin's implosion against Donegal in last year's All-Ireland semi-final. The search for an explanation focused on Dublin's easy run through Leinster, compared with Donegal's tougher path in Ulster.

Monaghan were one of the teams that severely tested Donegal up north, yet they were trimmed by Dublin in the quarter-final. Monaghan themselves had every sinew tested in Ulster so why didn't they do better against Dublin, who had free-wheeled into the last eight?

In 2013, Mayo won three Connacht games by an average of 15-points before playing Donegal, who had come through a hard-nosed Ulster campaign (they lost to Monaghan in the final), followed by a qualifier win over Laois.

On the basis that stern tests equip a team better than easy games, Donegal should have been well-primed for Mayo.

Result: Mayo 4-17 Donegal 1-10.

Mayo had a trouble-free run through Connacht last year, yet they beat Cork, who were well tested in Munster, in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

And is anyone seriously suggesting that Mayo's failure to beat Kerry in either the drawn or replayed semi-final had anything to do with Connacht poorly preparing them for what lay ahead?

We are repeatedly told that the leading All-Ireland contenders calibrate their season so carefully that everything is geared to arriving in Croke Park for the All-Ireland quarter-finals in August.

If that's the case, then the destination, not the journey is all that matters.

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