John McEntee: Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan should be encouraged by Dublin form
SO the Allianz National Football League has concluded with a fitting end. The two superpowers of Gaelic football played out a phenomenal finale with Kerry the deserving winners.
It was exciting stuff from start to finish. To the Galway woman seated in front of me, I apologise for spilling my tea over your hoodie. And to the Monaghan men seated behind me, I am sorry for jumping off my seat each time there was a goal chance.
When you are engrossed in a great game it is hard to maintain your composure. In the end, one point separated the sides, but it could have been so different had Dublin’s Dean Rock scored a long-range free with the last kick of the ball.
It reminded me of the 2002 All-Ireland semi-final between Armagh and Dublin where Dublin’s Ray Cosgrove had a free 40 metres from goal at a perfect angle for a right footer. Incidentally, it was the same ill-fated post.
Ray liked to kick from the hands, curling the ball over the bar. He was deadly accurate. He struck the ball cleanly and as it rose it began to curl. What happened next was uncanny. The wind stood still, so too did the curl of the ball.
The ball crashed off the far upright and down into the hands of Francie Bellew. Game over.
Sadly, the outcome of that kick appeared to have such an impact on Ray that he played little football for Dublin thereafter.
Dean Rock is a different character. The 2016 All-Ireland final replay is evidence of this.
In the drawn game he was poor, very poor. He missed many frees and was pushed around.
In the replay he was a man possessed. He hit first, he leapt around as if he was hypnotised, and he kicked point after point. His display won him an Allstar accolade and many admirers.
Dean will recover from Sunday’s last minute miss, I have no doubt about that. What interests me more is why Dean missed the free.
It is too easy to say it was a pressure kick, or that it was outside his range.
I’d accept those excuses this time last year, but given his development technically and physically over the past 12 months, coupled with his meticulous free-kick routine, such excuses don’t wash.
Dean missed that free because Dublin are off the boil. They have lost their edge, their form. They are surviving on “great heart and desire’” according to Jim Gavin.
A malaise has set in; it affects all teams who are as dominant for as long. It happened Crossmaglen Rangers in 2000 after winning back-to-back club titles.
Yes, Dublin remain competitive and will always be a formidable opponent, but what I see is a team who are running on empty.
The old reliable score-getters are not scoring, their midfield pairing are excellent individually, however they do not seem like a reliable partnership. Brian Fenton and Ciaran Reddin are not Anthony Tohill and Brian McGilligan. Their stalwart defenders remain solid, but less influential.
And it is not because opponents have got the measure of them.
Dublin need an oil change, they need to freshen it up. They need to reclaim their swagger and their unpredictability.
Jim Gavin has decisions to make. They have new talent within the squad, so why are they not being blooded in the big games? What does Paul Mannion have to do to get a starting jersey?
What does Paddy Andrews and co need to do to get dropped? Is the motivation of the players on the fringe waning? Every good team needs fringe players snapping at the heels of the starting 15 in order to drive performance up.
Is there balance in their training programme?
These are questions only Jim and his team can answer.
This defeat has dented Dublin’s armour. The top seven contenders can smell the damage and it will motivate them to improve.
Donegal, Monaghan and Tyrone are like a bunch of hyenas on the scent of a wounded wildebeest. They will not yield until they beat the Dubs.
Their participation in Division One of the Allianz League has contributed to Kerry’s victory, but they will not be receiving thank you cards for exposing Dublin’s vulnerabilities.
Notes will have been taken on Sunday’s match, but they will be filed under ‘maybe, just maybe’. Come the summer when Ulster teams go to war on each other, the Dubs go for a meander through Leinster to demolish Wexford and Westmeath with a likely final appearance against a revamped Meath team.
Jim Gavin is going to ask his men to go to the well one last time. He has to stop the rot before it becomes all-consuming. It remains to be seen if he can do this.
This year’s All Ireland is there for the taking and it excites me greatly. For the first time since 2012 when Michael Murphy led Donegal to victory, three Ulster teams are genuine contenders.
Each set of supporters yearn for the smell of victory and the sweet taste of glory.
The All-Ireland Senior Football Championship is revived thanks to Kerry and in no small part thanks to the Ulster teams.
You won’t hear our comrades in the south say that.