Football inter county Championship 2020 Oct 25, 2020 10:06:22 GMT via mobile
Post by Mickmack on Oct 25, 2020 10:06:22 GMT
Only Mayo or the virus will stop Dubs
'Dublin's status as the greatest team of all-time in close finishes owed a lot to Jim Gavin's unflappability. Farrell's true worth won't be revealed until he faces something like the 2017 and 2019 All-Ireland finals last-ditch dogfights.'
October 25 2020 02:30 AM
If the Dubs aren't caught this year, they'll never be caught. The All-Ireland champions have lost their long-time manager, their most talented player, the advantage of a huge partisan home support and the ability to prepare in their normal thorough fashion. The playing field has been levelled by these losses. So if not now, when?
Jim Gavin might be the most damaging absence. Dessie Farrell looks an excellent replacement but the real test won't come until he's confronted by one of those precarious situations which brought the best out of his predecessor.
Dublin's status as the greatest team of all-time in close finishes owed a lot to Gavin's unflappability. Farrell's true worth won't be revealed until he faces something like the 2017 and 2019 All-Ireland finals last-ditch dogfights.
The sudden nature of Jack McCaffrey's retirement perhaps made it seem more significant than it actually is. Because there has never been a team better able to absorb personnel losses than this Dublin outfit. The riches they possess are so great that sometimes the individual gems get lost in the overall glare.
Take someone like Paul Mannion. He's been the most consistently dangerous forward in the country over the past three seasons and the only one to win a hat-trick of All Star awards. Yet he doesn't really stand out because he's surrounded by so many other greats.
Like Con O'Callaghan, who three years ago produced the greatest debut season in the history of the championship and last year recovered magnificently after 2018's sophomore slump. In last year's final replay Mannion, O'Callaghan and Ciarán Kilkenny kicked 12 points from play between them, an astounding performance which slipped under the radar.
Kilkenny is another marvel while Dean Rock, perhaps Dublin's most consistent forward in All-Ireland finals, is the game's most prodigiously under-rated attacker. In Brian Fenton Dublin may have the best midfielder since Jack O'Shea. In Brian Howard they have the ultimate firefighter, a man with an unrivalled knack for making crucial contributions when the need is greatest.
The league has shown there's no loss of appetite in the peerlessly competitive James McCarthy. And while the Dublin full-back line is sometimes mentioned as a potential weak spot, we're only speaking in relative terms. Michael Fitzsimons has raised his game considerably over the past couple of seasons while Jonny Cooper would be an automatic choice in any other county.
Dublin also have the advantage of an easier run than their rivals. While Mayo must battle Galway, Donegal take on Tyrone and Kerry deal with a resurgent Cork, the Dubs will saunter through Leinster before meeting the Ulster rather than the Munster or Connacht champions in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The Dubs may be more vulnerable than ever this year but the biggest threat to their hopes of completing six in a row in December is Covid-19.
The championship is not an entirely foregone conclusion. Mayo and Kerry have come within an ace of dethroning the Dubs in recent years and remain their biggest threats.
Dublin's destruction of the former in the second half of last year's All-Ireland semi-final led to obituaries once more being written for the current red and green generation. Yet the comprehensive nature of that defeat tended to obscure the fact that James Horan's side had made important progress in 2019.
They'd won a national league title, laid their recent Galway bogey with a win in the final round of the qualifiers and made the semi-final by knocking out a Donegal side who up to that had been the second most impressive team in the Super 8. Mayo had even posed Dublin plenty of problems in the first half of that calamitous semi-final and led by two points at the break.
That the roof fell in shortly afterwards was partly due to one of Dublin's finest performances, but also owed a great deal to fatigue on the part of a team playing a seventh game in eight weeks.
Because of that collapse Mayo have largely been written off as contenders. That may be foolish. They retain a backbone of players who, as Galway and Donegal found out, are adept at winning tough championship games. Patrick Durcan is the best wing-back in football, the attacking mark could make Aidan O'Shea an irresistible force at full-forward, Cillian O'Connor has looked sprightly in the league while Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin both enjoyed stellar club championship campaigns.
To these have been added some very exciting young players. Oisín Mullin and Mark Moran showed up particularly well in last week's win over Galway while the return of Matthew Ruane at midfield may be important. Ruane was outstanding in last year's league before his season was cut short by a collarbone injury. Mayo have emerged from the lockdown in flying form and should be well able for both Roscommon and Galway in Connacht. They're undervalued.
Kerry may be slightly overvalued. Last year's All-Ireland final draw with Dublin still feels like a singularly botched opportunity. The result exceeded expectations but the fact Kerry played for over half the game against 14 men contributed to that. Had Mayo possessed an extra man in the 2016 or 2017 finals they'd have beaten the Dubs.
The build-up to the replay abounded with claims that a fundamental change in the balance of power had taken place and that Kerry had caught up with Dublin. The replay told a very different story, yet there is still a groundswell of opinion out there which feels Kerry's day may be at hand. This is partly due to the presence of David Clifford who would improve almost any team by at least 50 per cent. Clifford has proved to be an even better senior player than predicted and has a magnificent supporting cast in Paul Geaney, Seán O'Shea and Stephen O'Brien.
Kerry also have a solid midfield and in Peter Keane an astute manager who's improved them since taking charge. But is it enough? The defence which was badly exposed by not just Dublin in last year's replay but by Donegal in the Super 8 and Mayo in the league final remains an Achilles heel.
The emergence of Tom O'Sullivan last year firmed things up a bit but even when the Kingdom did subdue the Dublin attack in the drawn game, there was a wing and a prayer feel to it. All the systems in the world can't prevent defenders eventually being exposed against stronger opponents.
That's why the eventual Kerry breakthrough will probably come on a day when Clifford and his cohorts run up the kind of score which renders weaknesses at the other end irrelevant. They have such a day in them but it remains to be seen whether they can produce it this year.
Only two other teams have a hope in this year's championship and one of them will be gone by next Sunday evening after they meet in Ballybofey. There are many good things about Donegal. They have the best defensive record in this year's league and at their best play a wonderful free-flowing kind of Total Football. The attacking mark is tailor-made for Michael Murphy, Jamie Brennan is on the verge of becoming one of the game's best forwards, Ryan McHugh is a unique wonder and the team is full of athletic talented players who are comfortable on the ball.
So why this sneaking feeling they'll be turned over by Tyrone? Perhaps because for two seasons in a row, Donegal have failed to produce their best form when it mattered most, against Mayo last year and next week's opposition the year before that.
Mickey Harte's Tyrone always get the best out of themselves which is why they've made the last four three years in a row. They are the anti-Donegal in ways, not particularly inspiring or attractive and short of outstanding individuals, blending into a barely distinguishable melange of McGeary, McCurry, McKiernan, McCann, Lafferty, Hampsey, Kennedy, Donnelly et al. Yet they get the job done and the blow of losing their one undoubted star, Cathal McShane, may be softened by the return of Conor McKenna, who on the evidence of last week could readjust to Gaelic football quicker than most Aussie Rules old boys.
Outside the big five, no-one has a prayer. Galway's league loss to Mayo suggests that while they will almost certainly do great things under Pádraic Joyce they won't do them this year. Monaghan's exemplary honesty and character keeps them competitive at league level, but they couldn't move up a gear in last year's championship and face a tricky opener against Cavan.
Meath and Cork are improving all the time, would have benefitted from another stint in the Super 8, but will have to be content with defeat at the hands of Dublin and Kerry. Roscommon will hardly upset a forewarned Mayo twice on the trot. Clare have showed up well in Division Two and should make it to the Munster final. Some smaller counties will wonder if it's worth the bother.
Here we go. Enjoy it while it lasts, because it might not last long. My head says Dublin, my heart says Mayo but my sixth sense says panic-stricken virus-related shutdown.