Danny Hughes: Dublin's dominance looks poised to continue
AS the Championship rolls on and just when you think a challenger to Dublin finally is able to break their dominance, that door is slammed in your face.
For Donegal and Tyrone, it was not a matter of how they won their respective games last weekend, but the fact that a winning result was the most important aspect of it.
Should Tyrone beat Cork, their last game with Dublin is a gimme, to borrow a golfing phrase.
They can use that third game to possibly try a different tack, knowing they have qualified for the semi-finals (assuming, of course, Dublin beat Roscommon).
In this instance, perhaps Tyrone will opt to play – within reason – with a different style in the safe knowledge that a semi-final place is guaranteed. It will be a test of their All-Ireland credentials without the fear of defeat.
Cork will not be easily beaten, though. We are assuming here, of course, that the Rebels are buoyed by their match with Dublin. I suppose when a 13-point defeat gives rise to optimism, that is an indication of where Dublin football is and where everyone else is.
But for Cluxton’s excellence between the posts, it could have been closer, yet I still think the Dubs had that extra gear when they needed it.
It’s a bit like cat-and-mouse with Jim Gavin’s side. Dublin’s system of play may well give the opposition hope as they trust their defenders against anyone, one-on-one.
This will sometimes make things hard for a period of time during a game, but the brilliance of this Dublin team continues to manifest itself in every game when players like Brian Fenton catch two or three key restarts that result in match-winning scores at the other end.
I compare it to going in a gunfight with two loaded pistols. Dublin take two shotguns to the stand-off.
The Dubs are quite prepared to die in a straight shoot-out, knowing they have the greater artillery. They have proved it.
With Diarmuid Connolly now back in the fold, things don’t get much easier for anyone else from that perspective.
I just wonder just how Jim Gavin will manage this one. I can only imagine the other panellists on the Dublin squad who have been training all year will have mixed feelings with Connolly coming back into the fray.
Some may will appreciate his brilliance as a player and the fact that he has been there and done that. Others will feel that they have stayed the course, been present, pushing Dublin over the line
towards an unprecedented five-in-a-row.
I have no doubt that Gavin can manage this particular situation expertly – he has managed it in the past after all.
I certainly think we will see Connolly at some stage. If the St Vincent’s man wasn’t going to be used, he simply wouldn’t be back.
Gavin appears to be that ruthless and has proved in the past that sentiment has nothing to do with his decision-making process.
Tyrone’s biggest game of the Super 8s, meanwhile, is not against Dublin in a few weeks’ time; instead it is the game in Cork this weekend. That game will inevitably dictate their approach to the encounter with Dublin in round three of the quarter-final series.
Ronan McCarthy’s men will prove to be difficult opponents, as I’ve already said, but Tyrone are showing enough form to beat them. With McShane, Donnelly, Sludden and Colm Cavanagh all coming into great form, the Red Hands appear to be as well set as ever to challenge for an All-Ireland title.
Donegal, meanwhile, play their biggest game of the year in Croke Park this weekend when the Kingdom come to Dublin, riding high following their dismantling of a lacklustre Mayo side.
The Westerners have given us neutrals value for money to date in the Championship and, with them having played every week for some time now, I am reluctant to be
Kerry’s win over them was as much built on the economy of scoring chances taken as it was the immensely impressive figure of David Moran at midfield.
Mayo totem Aidan O’Shea looked like a casual observer in comparison to Moran throughout. And when one of your key men is receiving such a hammering, as O’Shea did, Mayo clearly didn’t have enough answers elsewhere on the field to drag them through it.
Neither Kerry nor Donegal, despite their impressive performances last weekend, can yet be confident that they can recreate big-game performances and expect or hope to beat Dublin.
I see headlines automatically translating these particular teams’ results into currency used in some way to talk up their chances of beating Dublin.
However, until the Dubs are beaten, we cannot yet say for sure whether any team can achieve that feat.
The Metropolitans have remained unbeatable in the Championship since August 2013. Mighty midfielder Brian Fenton has never lost a Championship match.
These are the unrivalled statistics which, in an era of dominance, one must surely take into account before making any such assertion that Dublin’s ‘drive-for-five’ is preventable.
To me, the men from the capital have too much in the tank for the rest. They are consistently brilliant. And that brilliance is not in the ‘fancy stuff’ mould.
It’s in perfecting the basics, such as shooting accuracy, decision-making when a goal opportunity is presented (always goes to the right man), selflessness and, primarily, their insatiable appetite for hard running – also known as work-rate.
Both surviving contenders from Ulster are not in this space just yet.
An example is a point which Donegal’s Jamie Brennan took in the second half when little separated the Tir Chonaill and Meath in the match.
Paddy McBrearty was standing alone inside 10 metres when the pass could and should have
been given to him for a huge three-pointer. The pass never came.
That difference in ‘mentality’ will dictate if a team can beat Dublin.
Don’t forget that Dublin were once a team of individuals who were incredibly goal-hungry and individually selfish. Pat Gilroy, and now Jim Gavin, have by and large totally eradicated any such behaviour in their respective teams.
These type of game situations, alongside more apparent tactical factors such as kick-out strategies, will decide results.
You could easily spend weeks preparing for games in terms of kick-out strategy alone, never mind offensive and defensive play.
The teams that are best prepared tend to win the game more often than not.
Playing ‘off the cuff’ is simply not an option anymore. The goalkeeper is arguably the most important person, certainly one of the most important, people on the field.
It’s a long way from the time when the pudgy ginger fella was the one who got picked last.
Wait, does that remind you of a certain ex-Armagh goalkeeper?