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Steven McDonnell: Dubs a pale shadow as chasing pack are closing in fast

Dublin's Lee Gannon and Armagh's Aidan Nugent in action during the Allianz GAA Football Division 1 match between Dudlin and Armagh at Croke Park Dublin on 01-29-2022. Pic Philip Walsh.
STEVEN McDONNELL

RIGHT now, Dublin look a pale shadow of their all-conquering six-in-a-row team, and there are three things that are particularly striking for me looking on from the outside.

The first thing is the number of basic mistakes and ball-handling errors they are making. They are giving away possession and that is a far cry from the team that were so much in control and comfortable at working the ball into dangerous areas.

Their body language right now is not good. It’s not that they are not up for the games they are involved in; it’s just that confidence has taking a blow, and with that, the swagger in your play goes.

We have all been there as sports people and it doesn’t take a lot for it to go pear-shaped. The reality is, while teams have a period of dominance, at some point the chasing pack get closer or overtake you, and different challenges arrive with that.

The last alarming point that stands out like a sore thumb right now is their bench is not having the same impact that we became accustomed to with Dublin. They are not springing a Kevin McManamon-type player from the bench that can have an immediate impact on the result.

In the past, it was their substitutions that made such a difference in the final quarter of a game that it almost became inevitable that when the changes were being made it was generating a new lease of life across the team.

All this being said, and while it doesn’t look good right now for them to survive Division One, they have not become bad players and they have not become a bad team overnight.

Kildare realistically are still the only team right now capable of matching them in Leinster, and come Championship time, whether they will be good enough to beat them remains to be seen.

The fact is, come the business end of the Championship, Dublin will still be in the mix, and along with Kerry, Tyrone and Mayo, they will be seen as the top teams to be beating if success is to be achieved.

Evan Comerford hasn’t strayed too far from his goalline, but in recent weeks the sweeper keeper is again being mentioned with Rory Beggan, Niall Morgan and Aaron O’Neill moving further up the field to try and create the extra man scenario.

This is a high-risk strategy, and it was only going to be a matter of time before one of them got caught out with playing such a high line.

Morgan almost got caught out with it last weekend against Kildare only for a poor lobbed effort to be made against him, but Rory Beggan was not as fortunate at the weekend when Kerry pounced on two opportunities of him off his line with two goals scored. There is no doubt that these guys are among the top goalkeepers in the game, but the pace at which some teams can create a turnover and transition to attack leaves them open for a sucker punch.

It will be interesting to see how this will impact their ventures up the field in the next couple of weeks.

A lot of talk recently has been about Armagh’s positive start to the League and while they are still in third place, the last two games have presented different challenges to the team and the management team.

Kieran McGeeney spoke after the Mayo game about the errors made, particularly in the last 10 minutes, which ultimately led to their defeat.

This year is still a learning curve for these guys, but to move up another level, seeing games out and having the know how to do it, especially when you are leading by three points up the stretch, is something that they must learn to do.

Experienced teams will always come with a late challenge, so it’s how you learn to deal with and manage that.

Derry have been very much under the radar, due to them playing in Division Two, but they are a team taking great strides forward and look like they are heading straight for another promotion.

They have gone undefeated so far and have assembled a very strong squad, so based on what we have witnessed so far, Derry and Armagh might just have a say on this year’s Ulster championship, alongside Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal.

No other provincial championship is as competitive and the more teams that get to that level, the better it is.

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