Dublin no longer dominate sides, they obliterate them

Dublin no longer dominate sides, they obliterate them

I WAS at the Leinster football final in 1995, when Dublin put on a late burst to beat Meath by 10 points.

Apart from the heat the most striking thing in the famous stands by the canal that day was the sense of carnival among Dublin fans, how they revelled in the rarity of a comprehensive win over the Royals — there was an unspoken sense that it had to be enjoyed, because it might never happen again.

Who could have foretold then that a day would come when Meath would be 20 points down in a Leinster final, or any serious football match? That we could say truthfully that a 30-point margin could have been achieved had Dublin not started mucking about?

As the blue tsunami sweeps nine out of 10 Leinster titles, there is a danger that we do not register the full implications of what we’re watching. For people of my generation, casting our minds back to the ’90s, when Dublin and Meath were so well-matched and Offaly, Kildare, Laois and Louth were all capable of beating them is a good starting point against which to gauge the carnage we witness now.

It is beyond dominance — that is what Dublin enjoyed under Paul Caffrey and Pat Gilroy, when they were in the happy habit of edging out Meath and Laois and Kildare in tight games. This is obliteration. Do not forget that the Meath team that was at least 25 points inferior to Dublin on Sunday have clearly established themselves as the second best team in the province.

They beat Kildare thoroughly in 2012 and were 12 points up on them early in the second half this year. Kildare were embarrassingly superior to Louth in the previous round, the 15-point margin not flattering the Lilies. Louth beat Westmeath.

If the gap from Dublin to Meath is humiliating, the chasm from Dublin to the bottom feeders in Leinster is unfathomable. If the draw in the next couple of years were to pit Carlow against the champions, and Dublin were to approach it honestly, we would be likely to see a 40-point gap in a game of senior inter-county championship football.

Those of us who fear this will be the way of things for some time are usually told to calm down, that football is cyclical, that Dublin are going through a golden generation and that they will not be blessed with such freakishly good footballers indefinitely.

There is some logic to that; we have just observed how much has changed in less than 20 years and none of us has enough foresight to tell what will be happening in Leinster football in 2025.

But we can also use the evidence in front of our eyes to say that what is happening now is much more than a natural cycle of a generation of improbably talented Dublin footballers. Because a lot of the men doing such damage to Meath on Sunday were not marked out from underage as absurdly gifted players.

On the contrary, Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh Macauley, Eoghan O’Gara and even Paul Flynn all shipped heavy criticism early in their careers for a lack of poise and guile when in possession of a size five.

Dublin are so organised and motivated and well-resourced and improving so fast that they are extracting the maximum from every useful player available to them. But that is not what should strike fear in those neighbours who aspire to compete. The seriously sobering question that should be posed is this: if Dublin can make such a potent weapon of O’Gara, a man who looked incapable of soloing a football with the slightest degree of panache a few years ago, what can they do with the stream of total, balanced, lightning fast footballers now reaching maturity?

If you think we exaggerate, you have not been watching Dublin underage teams closely enough. In the past, Cormac Costello would have been a once-in-a-decade footballer, someone for Dublin to build a team around and hope All-Ireland titles would follow.

But Costello follows in the two-footed steps of Ciaran Kilkenny. And there is another of that ilk, Con O’Callaghan, making the sport look easy for Dublin minors this year. Do not forget either the joy to watch that was Conor McHugh in this year’s All-Ireland U21 final mismatch.

If McHugh or O’Callaghan had emerged in the 1980s or 1990s they would be expected to carry Dublin’s senior forward line for the rest of their careers. Now, their first job will be to make the panel, a not inconsiderable task that they will have to work very hard at to achieve.

It is no accident, this procession of potential. Where some Leinster counties have one full-time coach full stop, well-educated coaches, both paid and volunteering, proliferate across the capital. There is nothing cyclical about this devotion to player development.

If you found the gulf on Sunday disquieting, get used to it. Leinster might be able to live with the humiliation of hidings from one freak group of Dublin footballers — it already did so for a short spell in the 1970s.

But for our money, we are not witnessing the peak of a gilded generation of Jacks; we are awaiting the unleashing of a yet more potent group.

The future of football is difficult to predict, but if that is the case, it will be well beyond tomorrow or the next day before the Delaney Cup resides anywhere else.