The stats that show Dublin's vice-like grip on Leinster as margins grow from a gap to a gulf
AT what point did the Leinster senior football championship cease to become a competition in the truest meaning of the word? Was it post-2010 — the last time we'd a Leinster final not involving Dublin?
Was it after the Dublin/Meath final of 2012 — the last time this long-time showpiece of the mid-summer calendar produced a one-score decider?
Was it after the 2013 collision of the same counties — the last time a fellow Leinster finalist had the temerity to lead the Dubs at half-time?
Or was it last summer, when Dublin's cumulative three-game margin of victory in the province hit the 60-point mark for the first time under Jim Gavin's remorseless reign?
Sadly, for those who prefer a competitive element to Leinster's flagship competition, these are the landmarks that spring to mind as this year's event reaches the quarter-final stage.
This should be a huge weekend for the Leinster SFC — four quarter-finals played as double-headers on consecutive days. The atmosphere in Portlaoise on Saturday (for Meath v Carlow at 5.0pm, Dublin v Louth at 7.0pm) and Tullamore on Sunday (for Westmeath v Laois at 2.0pm, Kildare v Longford at 4.0pm) should be carnival-like.
Carlow hoping to reprise last year's ambush of a provincial heavyweight. Hill 16 on tour in the Midlands. An intriguing battle of equals involving counties promoted from Division 3. After last year's Royal coup, Longford daring to dream of another scalp, this time a seemingly vulnerable Kildare.
When you market it like that, it sounds quite appealing. And as a stand-alone weekend 'festival of football', it might well be.
But context is everything, and everyone has long realised the Leinster football championship is a busted flush. There are several contenders who might halt Dublin's five-in-a-row march this year; but no one of sane mind expects it to happen in May or June, whatever about beyond.
A statistical trawl through Dublin's record eight-in-a-row in Leinster underlines how what used to be a gap has become a gulf, if not a chasm.
When Dublin reclaimed the Delaney Cup in 2011, they won their three provincial matches by a combined 12 points. Last year, the cumulative three-game margin had mushroomed to a staggering 60 points — surely an all-time record. Mind you, it only just eclipsed the previous high under Gavin — a 59-point differential in 2015.
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When champions win every game in their own provincial fiefdom by 20 points on average, you know something is not just spectacularly right with the standard-bearers — it says the chasing pack have fallen off a cliff.
For the record, Dublin's cumulative margin over the past eight years of Leinster rule has varied as follows: 12 points (2011), 23 points (2012), both under Pat Gilroy; and under Gavin, 39 points (2013), 43 points (2014), 59 points (2015), 36 points (2016), 52 points (2017) and 60 points (2018).
When it comes to finals, Wexford (losing by three in 2011) and then Meath were initially their closest adversaries: the latter lost by three in '12, seven in '13, but that had stretched to 16 points a year later.
Since then, Westmeath have suffered second half traumas en route to losing by 13 (2015) and 15 (2016); Kildare sporadically threatened in a nine-point defeat (2017) while some early Laois promise withered on the vine last summer and they lost by 18.
Little wonder, then, that supporter interest has waned — even though that can spike again if Meath or Kildare ever make it back to a final.
Leinster final attendances over the past eight years have veered from a 2012 high (69,657 against Meath) to a 2016 low (38,855 against Westmeath).
A resurgent Kildare helped attract 66,734 in 2017 . . . just two years later, with the Super 8s now the only gig in town, even that looks an impossible target for a province in freefall.
DUBLIN'S EIGHT-YEAR LEINSTER RULE
Dublin 1-16 Laois 0-11Margin: 8
Dublin 1-12 Kildare 1-11Margin: 1
Dublin 2-12 Wexford 1-12Margin: 3
Total Margin: 12 Final Att: 43,983
Dublin 2-22 Louth 0-12Margin: 16
Dublin 2-11 Wexford 1-10Margin: 4
Dublin 2-13 Meath 1-13Margin: 3
Total Margin: 23 Final Att: 69,657
Dublin 1-22 Westmeath 0-9Margin: 16
Dublin 4-16 Kildare 1-9Margin 16
Dublin 2-15 Meath 0-14Margin 7
Total Margin: 39 Final Att: 54,485
Dublin 2-21 Laois 0-16Margin: 11
Dublin 2-25 Wexford 1-12Margin: 16
Dublin 3-20 Meath 1-10Margin: 16
Total Margin: 43 Final Att: 62,660
Dublin 4-25 Longford 0-10Margin: 27
Dublin 5-18 Kildare 0-14Margin: 19
Dublin 2-13 Westmeath 0-6Margin: 13
Total Margin: 59 Final Att: 47,840
Dublin 2-21 Laois 2-10Margin: 11
Dublin 0-21 Meath 0-11Margin: 10
Dublin 2-19 Westmeath 0-10Margin: 15
Total Margin: 36 Final Att: 38,855
Dublin 0-19 Carlow 0-7Margin: 12
Dublin 4-29 Westm’th 0-10Margin: 31
Dublin 2-23 Kildare 1-17Margin: 9
Total Margin: 52 Final Att: 66,734
Dublin 4-25 Wick’w 1-11 Margin: 23
Dublin 2-25 Longf’d 0-12Margin: 19
Dublin 1-25 Laois 0-10Margin: 18
Total Margin: 60 Final Att: 41,728