'To win the All-Ireland titles three times in a row is virtually impossible' - Dublin legend offers hope to the rest
Lately, the Leinster SFC has been held aloft and derided as the mutated offspring of the structural imbalances between the perennial winners and almost everyone else.
This particular theory is a bugbear of John O’Leary’s, an easy, blame-all answer for those counties who suffer from their own lack of self-awareness.
“People talk about resources and players but it’s very easy for those counties to point the finger at Dublin. They should be pointing the finger at themselves,” insists Dublin’s 1995 All-Ireland winning captain.
“Because they’re all internal problems that they have themselves.
“Someday, somebody will get it right. But it might take a couple of years and a couple of near misses before they do.
“Statistically, somebody is going to beat you some day.”
It may yet just prove to be wishful thinking on the part of the propagators but there’s growing hope this year that the Leinster SFC might be more aggressively contested than in recent instalments.
Partly, that’s because Kildare – already nesting in the final on July 16 – were so good, strong and athletic against Meath last Saturday and partly, it’s because Dublin currently seem to be below their customary output for this time of year.
Yet their margin of victory over Sunday’s opponents, Westmeath, has been 15 and 13 points in the last two Leinster finals, so expectations of a more robust challenge prior to a decider are naturally slim.
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“They have enough experience against Dublin to know the times it has gone well for them and can they replicate that,” O’Leary notes.
“And then the times it has gone bad for them and can they eradicate that.
“And then they can step up their performance by a few notches and hope that Dublin’s is a few notches below the usual and they can level the playing field in that way.
“But generally speaking, the challenge just hasn’t been there in Leinster.
“In some cases, their performances haven’t been good enough – full stop. They’ve been very disappointing. And somewhat disrespectful in terms of the final output.
“Kildare look to have captured some of their swagger and we’ll see how that goes in the Leinster final.
“But Dublin just haven’t been challenged.”
Dublin’s spring was one of odd contrast.
They arrived back from a late team holiday in seemingly fine fettle and by the time they broke the record for the number of League and Championship matches unbeaten, were being hailed as one of the greatest teams to ever play their sport.
Then Kerry beat them in the League final and all their vulnerabilities were regurgitated.
“It’s a bit of an easy summary of a team when they get beaten - ‘they didn’t have this or they didn’t have that’.
“But people can’t tell because they’re making assumptions about individuals and their thinking,” says O’Leary.
“The big question for every individual in the team is the ‘why?’ question. Why am I here? Why am I doing this? Why am I going through this again?
“They have to be able to answer that getting out of bed and driving to a training session, coming home from the session and doing the recovery session.
“And then when you go on the pitch, where your reputation can be battered by some other fella.
“That’s the supreme test. And it comes down to individuals. If they all get that right, the ‘why?’ question for the team can be spot-on.
“But I think by virtue of the fact that they’re there, that they’re going through the slog and the hard training and all the stuff that’s asked of them.
“That’s always a hindsight debate. You can never answer that one in advance. And then all the pundits say ‘they weren’t up for it’ or whatever – which they never know anyway.”
“Look at the League performances. I know they drew three but they still managed to keep the unbeaten run going and they got to a League final.
“So the conversation we would have been having last October would have been put to bed during the League.
“Then when they lost to Kerry, people start to say that they’re in trouble again.
“To win any All-Ireland is hard. To win it twice is bloody hard. To win it three times
in-a-row is virtually impossible.”
“So they’re going to have to produce an unbelievable result this year to win the All-Ireland.”
The notion of Dublin beginning to show their age isn’t one O’Leary has countenanced.
The team, he points out, has already undergone a degree of transition since 2013 and Jim Gavin’s first All-Ireland win as a manager and the men who are the most important part of the structure are different too.
“New players come through and you only have to look at Kilkenny in hurling to see how a team can win an All-Ireland during transition.
“Dublin have had a couple of good under-21 teams in the last few years.
“They’re the guys who have driven the team on at senior level and it looks as through there are a few more of those guys still to come through.”