Saturday 18 November 2017

Tomás Ó Sé: For how long can Dubs rely on their leaders?

Champions are still the team to beat this summer, but Gavin needs to find more players who will inspire

Michael Darragh Macauley, Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly preparing to stand for the team photo last Sunday – these leaders have plenty more to give to the Dublin cause, but it’s hard to know how much longer they can go on dominating games like they’ve done for so many seasons. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Darragh Macauley, Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly preparing to stand for the team photo last Sunday – these leaders have plenty more to give to the Dublin cause, but it’s hard to know how much longer they can go on dominating games like they’ve done for so many seasons. Photo: Sportsfile
Tomás Ó Se

Tomás Ó Se

So Kerry struck a blow for themselves and the rest of the chasing pack and managed it sooner than I expected last weekend. I knew we were getting closer but I just didn't see that coming. And even though they were just the width of a post from being caught on the line again, it was a big moment for this Kerry team.

They've come further than I thought they would in a few months. Much further. And both tactically and in terms of personnel, we're starting to crack Dublin.

We couldn't lay a glove on Brian Fenton over the last couple of years but pushed him to the margins last Sunday.

We were able to get after Stephen Cluxton a bit more too, because we were setting terms of engagement. By running hard at the Dublin defence, we were winning frees. And that in turn gave us time to block the short kickout.

In the second half, we showed him a different picture every time he looked up and tried to get the thing out. There was usually no easy 'out' so we forced him to beat it down the middle. Suddenly you had a fighting chance of getting the thing back and more often than not we did.

We hammered the hammer, to borrow a rugby phrase. In attack we ran at them so often and so hard they were, unusually for them, struggling at the back. That running game, along with our ability to kick long and direct when the chance arose, put them put under pressure at the back.

Jim Gavin made the unusual move of taking off Cian O'Sullivan, which I didn't think we'd ever see.

Paul Geaney converted nearly every kickable free the Dubs gave up. Tadhg Morley had a huge game. David Moran is majestic in that sort of form. Ronan Shanahan snapped into things like he's been around forever.  

And crucially Kerry were getting the balance between attacking and defending right.

And while it's obvious what that win will do for Kerry, it's less clear what it means for Dublin. My suspicion is that it could be a turning point for them. Now I'm not writing them off by any stretch. Look at it this way, loads of things in that final went right for Kerry, and loads went wrong for Dublin, but they still had a kick to bring it to extra-time.

So until someone beats them in the championship they are top dogs, and everyone in Kerry and everywhere else will know that.

But they won't hold the same fear for Kerry now. And it's probably the same for the rest of the big sides.

I think that maybe their central characters will change. They need a succession plan for the lads who have made them such a brilliant team over the last couple of years. That's not easy to do. Replacing good players is hard, though Dublin have the depth to bring in talented young men to keep them at the top.

But replacing leaders in the side is much more difficult. And that's what they'll need down the line.

I'm talking about replacements for the likes of Michael Daragh Macauley, Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, O'Sullivan and Cluxton.

They are all one-off men. But how much longer can they go on dominating games for like they have done for so long?

There's big talk about a lot of their young lads. Con O'Callaghan (below) is one name that keeps popping up and I'm told he's a special talent. But we haven't seen enough of him to know for sure.

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Star-in-the-making Con O’Callaghan is expected to be on duty. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

From Gavin's point of view, that is not this season's problem and Dublin are still a brilliant team.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice was at pains to point out that while the league final win was great, beating Dublin in championship is what really matters. Fail in that, then last Sunday doesn't count for a thing.

Only if they meet in the summer will you be truly able to say whether the league final was the sign of a changing of the guard or just a hiccup on the road to more silverware for a Dublin team intent on forcing themselves deeper into the 'greatest team ever' debate.

What I can say is that, as a player, you never know when your team is starting to slip. Or if you did you wouldn't acknowledge the thought.

Looking back now I can say our team of 2009 would never have lost that final in 2011. But we did. We coughed up a winning position. Now at the time I couldn't believe we had lost it. Genuinely I was at a loss to explain it to myself.

But with hindsight I can see that we were on the downslope. We had lost Darragh, who was our boss around the middle. Tommy Walsh was one of the best young players we had produced at the time but he was in Australia by then.

History shows that Dublin's time had arrived. By the time we found out we were on the way down it was too late to do anything about it. I had no idea at the time but that was it for me and All-Ireland finals.

Anway, I have to say it was a brilliant league. Donegal are back in the mix. Rory Gallagher has done brilliantly to keep his Donegal side competitive and at the same time blood new faces. That U-21 team they have is serious. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can bring to the Championship.

Every weekend in the league, you couldn't predict what was going to happen. It made for great viewing.

The appetite for top-level football is huge. TG4 reported their biggest ever audience for the League final - which makes the fact that we have essentially three months of nothing ahead of us all the more galling.

I was thinking about it the other day. There's nothing coming down the tracks in football that excites me. Nothing.

Look around the provinces. Dublin probably won't have a meaningful game in Leinster. Kerry should get a decent game against either Cork or Tipperary in a Munster final. Mayo will get one test in Connacht. There'll be couple of good games in Ulster with Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal all in the mix.

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What does that make? Less than half a dozen matches to keep us interested until August?

In between there'll be loads of games that won't mean anything to the big picture. That's why the league is such a good competition, because everyone has a fighting chance of doing something.

And it's also why I can't wait for the Super 8s because we'll have best teams playing each other and some of the games down the country. Fair play to Paraic Duffy for pushing it through. It'll make for better summers.

I know some counties won't want to read that. They'll say that the Super 8s only serve the strong counties. They are right. But what is a Championship about it not to find the best team?

In soccer, the structure sees to it that Manchester United don't play Cambridge United. But under the current system here, they do.

June and July are the most important months in the GAA calendar but they are largely non-events where you could have one team starting their summer one weekend and a handful more bringing theirs to a close in the back door seven days later.

I'm flogging a dead horse here but the system really is a mess, which is why I'd like to see counties who'd be in that bracket consider a second-tier championship seriously. I agree that tradition is important in the GAA. But Jesus, it's not everything.

You only have to look at the four finals last weekend. I watched all of them and the gulf in standard between even the Division 1 and Division 2 finals was stark.

And the further down the divisions you went? Well, it just looked like a different game. There's just no way all those teams should be fighting for the same prize in the summer.

So there's merit in a second tier. Like there are four tiers in hurling? And we all do it at club level. Counties shouldn't look at it as a 'B' competition because I know the thoughts of it turns them off. But they should look at it as something they could actually go and win.

Because the ways things are at the minute we're looking into long sunny days of nothing but local skirmishes until August.

Irish Independent

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