Cahair O'Kane: Evidence says Dublin won't win the All-Ireland

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair is a sports reporter and columnist with the Irish News specialising in Gaelic Games.

The line-up of All-Ireland contenders pretty much contains the usual suspects. Graphic: Kevin Farrell
The line-up of All-Ireland contenders pretty much contains the usual suspects. Graphic: Kevin Farrell

IT was after they had finished shooting The Usual Suspects that one of modern cinema's great endings came about.

When the detectives that thought they were questioning Verbal Kint realise that they’ve actually just let master criminal Keyser Soze spin them yarns and walk out the front door, the coffee cup smashes to the floor.

Director Bryan Singer felt underwhelmed by the costly final scene that revealed Kevin Spacey's character as the true villain.

"We finished editing two weeks early, but the film kind of died at the end, during the big reveal. Then I had an epiphany while lying by the editing machine in my sleeping bag. You finally understood that Kevin, not Gabriel, was Söze – but you didn’t feel it viscerally. So I said to my editor: 'Find me images and sounds that show Kevin is Söze. Cut them into a montage and run it just as Chazz’s cop looks at everything on the bulletin board and realises'," Singer told The Guardian in 2016.

In the week that the aptly-named Shiv Roy became the focus of a dramatic finish to the gripping American drama, Succession, you’re reminded how rarely endings are truly unpredictable.

Gaelic football’s Usual Suspects are lining up to time their exit from the stalls when the round-robin series ends.

Kerry and Dublin have won 68 All-Ireland football titles between them.

It is seen by bookmakers as very likely that one of them will make that 69 this year.

Mayo and Galway are in the mix.

Derry are at the back of the leading pack.

Tyrone or Armagh both look too far back at this stage.

Outside that, everyone else is just waiting their turn, hoping that there might be a semi-final in it for them if it falls right.

It is not often the bookmakers get things wrong. But they are wrong about this year’s All-Ireland series.

Dublin are currently 9/4 favourites to lift Sam Maguire.

Dublin will not win the All-Ireland.

It has been shown that when they are allowed to play end-to-end football, Dublin are probably still the best team in Ireland at hurting you on the break.

A forward like Con O’Callaghan gives you a chance, always.

But there’s so much evidence building up that they’re very much fourth in the running order, closer to Derry than they are to Galway, Mayo or Kerry.

There are two primary arguments to support this.

The first is that they’re struggling on their own kickouts. Dublin’s dominance of football was built almost exclusively on their ability to retain the ball.

It might only have been after the 2020 season that Stephen Cluxton stepped away but much has changed since. Teams are no longer as scared of his receivers as they once were. They’re more inclined to press up on Dublin.

He also seems to have lost a bit of length on his kick, meaning the ball that he could once fire out over the top of a press isn’t a get-out to give opposition teams the fear.

They’ve not fared well on their own ball in the early championship, without having met any of the stronger sides yet.

The second reason, and far more notable, is the way in which they’re badly struggling to break down any form of decent structured defensive setup.

Teams that protect the middle of their goal with bodies are finding that Dublin no longer have the answers they once had.

It happened all through the league.

You don’t need to look much beyond the scoreline to see that they laboured badly against Louth, Cork, Clare and Kildare. They were beaten in Derry after a good first half.

The reasons were almost always the same. Their attacking play lacks fluidity and cohesion. Angled runners off the sideline but the pass is a split-second or a half-yard off and the ball spills.

The wrong men in the wrong places, taking the wrong options. Cian Murphy, for example, lost the ball four times inside Roscommon’s ‘D’ two weeks ago.

In the league final, they scored just four points in the first half. Derry had them shooting from sidelines and out near the 45, or else turning them over at will when Dublin tried to play through it.

When they got a fortuitous first goal, Conor Glass was on the floor injured. He went off. Chrissy McKaigue and Eoin McEvoy didn’t play. The game got stretched and Dublin pulled away.

The only games they’ve won convincingly were when teams decided that having a cut at them was the best approach. Meath in the league, Louth in Leinster and Kildare at the weekend.

All three paid the price that they will still make you pay for that.

When it becomes that type of game, they’re still absolutely lethal.

But games between the top teams are not played like that.

The Roscommon game was far more indicative of where Dublin are at.

A lot of the focus fell on what happened when Dublin didn’t have the ball. Roscommon kept the ball for 77 passes because they were allowed to. It took Dublin six minutes to get angry and squeeze them properly.

What happened over the 70 minutes when they did have the ball indicated they still haven’t been able to fix their issues.

Out of 36 attacks, they scored 1-11. They were continually turned over inside the ‘D’. Their shot selection was again so far off the mark.

Those issues were not a one-off. It was the same as the Kildare game in Leinster and the same as the Louth league game and the Derry first half in Croke Park and the Clare game.

Jack McCaffrey holds the key. If they can get him fit and firing, he can break down defences all on his own. But the structure of their attacking play is a level beneath the teams they’ll be up against when it comes to the All-Ireland semi-final and beyond.

Kerry haven’t shown their form at all but with the clawing monkey ripped from their backs in last year’s semi-final, they have the ability to go defensive and shut Dublin out of a game.

Mayo are better than Dublin, but would still worry about having the two man-marking influences to shut down O’Callaghan and Kilkenny.

The team Dublin would least want to be drawn against in a semi-final is Galway.

That’s if they get there.

Derry would fancy their chances against the Dubs in a big way.

You’d actually give Tyrone a decent chance against them because of their ability to close up the middle of the goal, force Dublin into the same mistakes.

Where the 2021 champions might just fall down is in having enough scores themselves to win.

You could almost mark your Sunday Game bingo card here and now for the causes of the defeat that will come to them.

Disjointed attacking play.

Shot selection.

Poor execution.

Conversion rate around 50 per cent.

Being turned over in and around the ‘D’.

Their own kickouts.

Kerry themselves have looked far more reliant on David Clifford than ever and like a team that’s decided they’re almost too good to defend now that they’ve won one.

If they go back to the tight structure of last year with Tadhg Morley protecting the goal better, it’s them, Galway or Mayo that win Sam.

Which of them, it’s hard to say yet.

The ending remains fairly unpredictable for those three and for the championship in general.

But not so much for Dublin.