Vincent Hogan: Pursuit of 'double-double' for Dublin begins to look unstoppable
So summer looms and football finds itself trapped in a loop of doubt. Do you put out a team against Dublin or send out an expedition?
Only their dust is visible now. The biggest winning margin in a National League final since 1961 left their victims, Derry, almost pining for the stimulus of local spites and hatreds that will heat the upcoming Ulster championship. For this wasn't so much football as a day in the Coliseum.
Dublin ran right over Brian McIver's team in the way of a tornado flattening an Oklahoma camper park.And the truly terrifying thing is that they were wasteful, careless, even a little disinterested as they did it. They mixed the most glorious passages of football with the odd, glaring sedentary lapse. They had 17 wides and leaked a succession of fleeting goal chances.
It was as if Dublin struggled to keep their concentration on a game that ceased to be a contest the moment Cailean O'Boyle did the equivalent of poking a bear with a stick by palming to the Canal End net. Just four minutes had elapsed, sadly, Derry left facing an eternity of retribution.
Within 15 minutes, Dublin had stretched 0-9 to 1-0 clear, their physical power all but drawing smoke from the grass. For Derry, thus, a splendid league campaign was suddenly being acquainted with context.
McIver knew the rest would have to be filed under 'education'.
"We knew we were going to learn a lot about ourselves today," he said afterwards. "The one thing we did learn was that we got totally overawed in the first 35 minutes of the game. We gave Dublin a start that you cannot really afford to do but, listen, we always said this season was going to be a learning experience for us."
Had they been overawed by the occasion or the opposition?
"That's hard to say, whether it was the occasion or whether it was the fact that Dublin really clicked and everything was working for them, but it's very hard to put an experienced head on young shoulders," he sighed.
"We are very much aware of the fact that we are exposing quite a few young lads to a big, big occasion here today. Like, there was no losing the head at half-time or anything else. We just knew that we had been overawed and all we wanted to do in the second half was settle down and play a wee bit of our own football."
Doing anything beyond that would have required an elephant gun. Dublin led by seven points at the mid-point without embroidering the half with a Hill End goal. Eoghan O'Gara, particularly, and Bernard Brogan were unplayable on the inside line yet, everywhere, Dublin looked physically dominant.
Johnny Cooper might have had a difficult day when the teams last met in Celtic Park, but here Mark Lynch could never escape his claustrophobic attention. Paul Flynn kicked three points from wing-forward and was promptly repositioned at wing-back. Stephen Cluxton picked his kick-outs with the studied care of a chess-master, the real puppeteer behind the blue curtain. "We thought we had our homework done," McIver said of Cluxton.
"But he's the master!"
Any pretence of Derry mounting a comeback disappeared in the 43rd minute with Bernard Brogan's stunning "thunderbolt" as McIver called it.The rest was just accountancy, Kevin McMenamon and Diarmuid Connolly adding further goals, the latter delivered as elegantly as a nocturne by Chopin. And all the time, on some subliminal level, opponents were surely reciting the names of those unavailable on the day – Cormac Costello, Dean Rock, Paul Mannion, Jack McCaffrey, Ger Brennan, Denis Bastick...
This isn't a team Jim Gavin is building, it's a movement.
Afterwards he expressed sympathy for their victims. "I don't think Derry did themselves justice out there today," said Gavin. "They're much better than that. And I think the championship will prove it."
It may well too but, for now, that same championship looms as some kind of dilatory exercise to entertain us before Dublin secure the so-called 'double-double' of successive league and All-Ireland victories, a feat last achieved by Kerry in 1931 and '32.
For team captain Cluxton, such glory will always remain secondary to the journey.
"I'm always looking for a performance," he reflected afterwards, when asked if the title was the most important thing.
"I know what the guys are capable of, I see it in training week in, week out. So performance for me. You get to look back on your titles when you're old and, while I'm old, I'm not that old yet. So performance."
And the words that followed might just fill the rest of the game with dread.
"I still think we have areas that we can improve on, that's the bonus," said the Dublin captain. "When you come off the pitch, you've got to be critical and there's places that we can work on. It's important that we don't become stagnant. I think Johnny Cooper said it during the week that, if we don't progress, we'll be caught.
"So the onus is on us just to keep pushing ourselves, pushing each other as a group. And that's the bottom line."
Inside the dressing-room, Alan Brogan was reminding people that in his 13 years wearing the county jersey, this had been his first league final. The veteran's message followed the company line then. Make hay while you can boys.
Nothing short of a falling comet would seem equipped to stop them.