Great teams of past would relish chance to punish Dublin

Great teams of past would relish chance to punish Dublin

 YOU know it’s a strange Leinster senior football championship when one newspaper refers to ‘heroic Wexford’ in the headline of their report on Dublin’s win over the Model county.

It’s surely the first time a team that has conceded 2-25 and lost by 16 points has been afforded such a plaudit. Before the game, former Kildare forward John Doyle wrote how he had met a friend in Portlaoise and offered praise for Laois’ display against the Dubs in the previous round. “Jaysus, Johnny, we lost by 10 points,” was the bemused reply.

Yet you know what Doyle and the headline writer meant. Dublin’s rural Leinster rivals used to have to earn the hero tag by beating the ultimate townies. Now even people in such a proud county as Wexford draw comfort from last-ditch defending to keep the score down — and Shane Roche, Graeme Molloy and Adrian Flynn fulfilled that role admirably.

The speed at which Dublin turn close games into double-digit thumpings is frightening, their stretching of a three-point lead to a 16-point victory in less than half an hour on Sunday calling to mind their astonishing 17-point second-half humiliation of Cork in the league semi-final.

Jack McCaffrey, the 2013 young footballer of the year, can’t get in the team, Bernard Brogan, the man whose scores settled the All-Ireland final, was not risked, and yet, from the moment Paul Mannion brought a brilliant save from Roche inside a minute, there was never any semblance of doubt about the result.

And yet, the reverse of our opening point is also true, for surely it is seldom that a team has scored 2-25 to win a big championship game by 16 points and looked so downright lacklustre.

This time last year, Dublin won their provincial semi-final against Kildare by the same margin, but the two performances cannot be compared. That day, Dublin were awesome from the fifth minute to the last, four or five missed goal chances, most of them fine saves, the only cloud on their horizon.

It was an extension of how they played in the league, and they continued in the same vein against Meath and Cork, leaving them well set to withstand the greater tests offered by Kerry and Mayo.

The results this year are broadly the same — a league title and a canter to the Leinster decider — but this time, the general sloppiness with a burst of brilliance tacked on are the characteristics that have carried over from league to championship, not the ruthless focus that was so evident in 2013.

Strange, indeed, to say about a team that is mowing down all opposition with such ease, but if Dublin had a great rival, a Tyrone 2005 or a Kerry 2009, they would be dying for the chance to tear into the champions, for there are readily apparent weaknesses.

It is entertaining to imagine Brian McGuigan, Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan watching Ben Brosnan and Ross Munnelly make hay against Dublin’s defence. They would be counting the hours until they might have a crack themselves.

One can also imagine Jack O’Connor noticing how Jim Gavin felt the need to leave his seat to draw an official’s attention to a cut sustained by Paul Mannion on Sunday. It would be all the evidence he needed to convince him that Dublin might not be ready for the ferocity of Paul Galvin, Tomas Ó Sé and Darragh Ó Sé.

Such teams would note the downsides to Dublin’s games above the plethora of positives. How the old doubts can resurface in Kevin McManamon. How Nicky Devereaux is untested. How Mayo were able to dominate possession for such a long spell in the league.

They would not be afraid of Cormac Costello’s vast potential but instead eager to test him and Dublin’s cadre of similarly gifted young players on the biggest stage of all.

Above all, they would sense a general attitude that is hard to define or express, a feeling that is emerging that Dublin are almost agitated when an inferior team has the temerity to offer resistance. They would see it in the way Michael Darragh Macauley and Diarmuid Connolly only turn it on when they have to, the way some Dublin players still take the wrong option when the net beckons.

It wouldn’t even matter whether such a hint of arrogance exists. A great team would add it to their list of grievances and think of little else for the rest of the summer apart from beating Dublin.

Of course, the problem is whether such a team exists.

Kerry are weaker than last year, Cork already look too far off. Tyrone have never looked frightened of Gavin’s side but might not be good enough to even earn a crack at them. Donegal are not what they were, Meath have the defiance but not the legs, Monaghan the defiance but not the depth. Mayo must recreate the power of their performance against Donegal last season to stand a chance and time is ticking without them showing signs of anything like their best.

Still, amid all the astonishing power and pace, there is something there, some slight vulnerability, enough to give hope, even if it is a foolish one, to all of the above when the whistle blows and they settle down to trying to test the All-Ireland champions.