Capacity for work and play sets Dublin apart

Capacity for work and play sets Dublin apart

THE desire to beat Dublin at football or at least see someone else beat Dublin at football is lodged deep in the culchie psyche.

To pretend otherwise is a lie, and a pointless one, for it is one of the glories of our game, something to be celebrated rather than denied.

Every football-loving kid from the other 31 has indulged in fantasies in his back garden of kicking a last-minute winner to sicken the Jacks.

You can see it every summer in one of the great spectacles in football, when an opposing freetaker faces his first assignment into Hill 16, particularly if it's a tricky one.

He weighs the kick while pretending not to notice the 12,000-odd people directly in front of him who are bursting themselves to intimidate him. He will either silence them and be rewarded with a huge roar from the gut of the Hogan Stand, or he will be punished with diminishing jeers.

And everyone that is not from Dublin has a wee smile to themselves when that freetaker scores. It is a natural reaction when watching any side play the glamour team in any sport.

It gives some Dubs the creeps to an unnecessary degree - just because we are, in some ways, out to get you, doesn't mean you should get too paranoid - but wiser ones recognise the compliment. How much worse would it be to be irrelevant, as Dublin were in the years immediately before Kevin Heffernan took the reins?

It is a dynamic that has been making football infinitely more interesting since 1974. The sport would be incalculably duller without it, like a rugby world cup without New Zealand, as we wait to see whether they crack or deliver. The great Kerry and Meath and Tyrone teams would not have lived as long in the memories were it not for their victories, whether by one point or 17, against Dublin.

And we suspect Dublin's successes would not be half as sweet to devotees of the sky blue without the sense that everyone wants them to fail. It is a good thing, this clash of town and country, tribal and fascinating.

It is worth being upfront about all of that because it is crucial background to the changed times we find ourselves in. Dublin have now and again destroyed teams but everyone could live with it because there was the suspicion in the back of the minds of Dubs and culchies alike that when pitted against a good enough team, Dublin would quite possibly prove to be a bit shit.

In 2014, that sense is absent. The odds of one-to-four on them winning the All-Ireland look about right. Because all the hopeful talk that Dublin have played no one of substance betrays the evidence in front of our eyes, which strongly suggests that they are by a distance the best team in the country. More than that, that they have the potential to be one the best teams of all time.

Hell, had they not allowed the party of 2011 to roll towards 2012, they might already be more than halfway to five-in-a-row. Even though they stand on a mere one-in-a-row it is impossible to discount the possibility that they might one day move within range of that magical figure, last glimpsed in 1982 by the best team that ever took a field.

It has led to a huge debate about the structural and financial advantages that Dublin enjoy. That is something we have been thinking about a lot since the spring of last year, when it was clear to anyone that was watching that Jim Gavin was hatching something special.

You have heard the argument, versions of which range from faint grumbles to flat-out accusations that Dublin are buying All-Irelands.

It is true that Dublin have a big and well-organised backroom team and that that must be a help. It is true that they are starting to dominate underage football, at least in Leinster, and that it looks as if that dominance will increase.

There is a legitimate debate to be had about that, but it is one that affects the future. Here and now, we must set the kid in the back garden and the part of ourselves that smiled when Kieran Hughes kicked his first free on Saturday to one side and assess the situation dispassionately. And when we do so, we see that it just doesn't add up.

The problem with attributing this Dublin side's success to investment in the capital is that the development of most of the footballers they used on Saturday long predates the first swell of the blue wave.

There was Alan Brogan, covering every swathe of grass he could find. He already had his first hints of grey hair before half the kids in the capital were carrying a hurley.

Others argue that cash has bought Dublin an advantage in preparation that manifests itself in superior conditioning. It is true that Dublin seem faster and stronger than most opponents - a phenomenon that would surely peak Jerry Kiernan's interest - but there is more than that.

There is Dublin's ball skills. It seems the last thing they are given credit for in some quarters, but to our eyes it is the cornerstone of their results. Paul Flynn is the prime example.

We hear constantly of his rugby league physique, and it is true he is awesome in the scrap for possession, but what makes him such a brilliant footballer is, well, his football, his comfort off either side, his ability to deliver a 50-yard pass.

Indeed, Brogan and Flynn are the poster boys for what makes this team, or indeed any great team you care to mention - hard work and technical ability. Resources don't hurt, but they also can't make up for a deficit in either area.

Attempts to detract from those virtues are not new. In the previous decade, Armagh and Tyrone were given too much criticism for their cynicism and too little credit for their appetite for the hard yards and their rare ability to play.

With Dublin, there is a risk that the wailing might be a notch more intense because of the natural rural-urban divide. That rivalry might be healthy and interesting for both sides, but it should not prevent us from giving credit where it is due.