Enda McGinley: Dublin are far from unbeatable
AS we settle into this ‘club’ month of April and get used to the almost eerie absence of the inter-county scene, deep in the hearts of the challengers there will be a stirring of activity and preparation for the summer. Mayo, Galway, Kerry, Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan will all harbour dreams which they know may bring them into a collision course with the game’s dominant force – Dublin.
How many conversations regarding teams’ form or progress or possibilities carry the caveat ‘but sure, then there’s Dublin’. Wry and, by this stage, weary smiles betray the fact that Dublin have managed to carve out that rare place in our sub-conscience that they are nigh-on invincible. Only the most special teams ever manage that.
In GAA, Kerry had it in their ‘Golden Years’. The Kilkenny hurling team had it in the Noughties. The likes of the All Blacks carry it with them everywhere they go.
The cliché goes that, against such illustrious opposition, teams are often beaten before they go out. That cliché does have an element of truth, but it also fails to give credit to the amazing quality of these teams to always find a way to win. No matter about bad luck, poor performances or injuries etc. they dig in, someone else stands up and they grind out the result. There is no point hoping that you can somehow snatch a win against such teams.
You must be prepared to go with the like of Dublin toe-to-toe to the very end, like Mayo did, and when the chance comes to make the kill and take it, like Mayo didn’t. The mental strength it will take to pull that feat off will be massive and the foundations for it must be laid now.
All the teams, particularly the Ulster and Connacht representatives from that chasing pack, will have huge games in the summer before the Dubs potentially loom into view. Yet the subconscious mental preparation must already be taking place. The comments and impressions regarding Dublin are simply too pervasive for them not to seep into players’ heads unless they are warded off.
Even the notion that I have heard several times, that somehow teams are unlucky now to be playing in an era where this special team is present, needs to be turned on its head.
Those teams in the chasing pack must change this notion of pessimism to one of amazing opportunity.
Chasing down one of the great teams must become a huge motivation. The magnitude of a significant Championship victory over this Dublin side will rank up there with one of the historic moments of our games, replayed well into the future.
To have the opportunity to be the team that achieves that is massive and one any team or player should relish.
Are the Dubs unbeatable? Absolutely not.
Some of the strengths of this Dublin team are irrefutable. Their discipline in sticking to playing the game simply is amazing.
Many of those players are some of the best of our generation, yet I cannot think of any one of them doing anything you could describe as flash.
You barely see a chipped pick-up never mind a lobbed goal or
show-boating after a score. They might consequently appear robotic and lacking in personality but let’s realise that, undoubtedly, these lads have the ability to do all of that and more, yet every single time they take the correct, and often simple, option.
Both Steve Jobs of Apple fame and Isaac Newton (of apple fame) espoused the need to make things simple, ironically a difficult thing to do.
Often, we talk of the greatest sports people making the complex task appear simple. Dublin are no different. They execute the basic skills and show perfect decision-making to a higher degree than any other team in the county.
This is the challenge laid down to opponents. The ironic thing – maybe typical of our era – is that this mastery of simple football is wrapped up inside an apparent shroud of supreme athleticism.
Their power, pace, conditioning is viewed as being on another level. It is here that I would disagree.
I remember well Mickey Harte’s famous take-down of Armagh’s apparent superior physical strength in Tyrone’s team meeting on the eve of the 2003 All-Ireland final.
Most of us in the Tyrone team were in our early 20s at that stage and Armagh were certainly physically bigger. But as we have learned since, a combination of their body language and their shirts had magnified this attribute.
Through totting up the two teams’ average weights, Mickey showed that the difference per player was 2lb. He duly produced a bag of sugar and made us pass it around the whole team.
The message was clear, if this was all that Armagh’s perceived primary superiority over us amounted too, then their bluff was called.
I do not believe this Dublin team, particularly the current incarnation of it, is physically superior to other county teams. How I would love to hire a few handy Russians to hack into the various counties’ GPS data.
My gut feeling is that, in terms of outright speed, distance covered and number of high level efforts, Dublin’s stats would not be notably different than any of the chasing pack.
Jim Gavin, as if flaunting Dublin’s sheer depth of talent, has effected a much more rapid turnover of players than what has probably been necessary.
Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Kevin McManamon, Bernard Brogan and others have gradually become peripheral figures even before their current injury/rest issues.
Players like Niall Scully, David Byrne, Brian Howard, Cormac Costello, Colm Basquel, Conor McHugh are all exceptionally capable footballers, but physically superior than other county players? Not a chance.
In fact, looking at Dublin now, they actually appear physically smaller than some other teams who have bulked up a lot and maybe too much.
The three keys for me are mobility, mental strength and simple football. Simple football, as Dublin play it, is awesome. That itself is a big enough challenge without thinking the Dubs are some sort of unbeatable team of super athletes. Which they are not. The challenge is set, the chase is on...