Future is bleak for Dublin’s Leinster football rivals
Kildare minor boss Brendan Hackett believes the disparity in terms of population and resources means Dublin will continue to dominate within the province
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and his team-mates warm up before the second half of last Sunday’s Leinster final. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Three games, 7-66 scored, a 14-point average winning margin, 19 different scorers, and 18 substitutes – who between them contributed 2-21.
No wonder some rival managers are now describing Dublin football as a “complete machine” – and that the Leinster championship is in danger of becoming “like the Scottish football league”.
Because these are only some of the bare statistics left in the wake of their Leinster final victory on Sunday, Dublin’s ninth title in 10 seasons – and with that inflicting the biggest defeat on old rivals Meath in a Leinster final since 1955.
And as the crowd of 62,660 were filing into Croke Park, Dublin were also winning their fourth Leinster minor football title in six years, beating defending champions Kildare by 10 points, and with eight different scorers.
Watching both games closely was Brendan Hackett, firstly as manager of the Kildare minors (along with former Kildare county stars and now selectors Tadhg Fennin and Brian Lacey), and secondly as a spectator.
A s Dublin took Meath apart in the senior game that followed, Hackett, who spent previous periods as senior manager of Longford, Offaly and Westmeath and who is a qualified sports psychologist, had a sense of foreboding about the future of Leinster football. He believes Dublin are taking Leinster football into a whole new era.
“Dublin have always had this population to pick from, that’s the first thing to remember,” he says. “And for every one player Kildare or Meath might find, Dublin can find 10. That’s a huge advantage to begin with.
Completely professional “But for a number of years there they just weren’t as organised as they are now. Because now they are just completely professional in the way they go about things, a complete machine.
“I’m looking in from the outside, and they’ve got every possible resource at their disposal needed to prepare a team, whether that’s the finances to buy in sports scientists or strength and conditioning coaches, all the way down, while most counties would only have the resources to buy them in at one level. So whatever any other county is doing, Dublin can do it several times over.
“I don’t say that in any recriminating way. That’s just a fact. And they use those resources very well, at senior, under-21 and minor level, and all the way down through their development squads. Everyone has access to that. Then they’ve got the personnel to go with that, including some former intercounty players who just wanted to get involved.”
Hackett did send in some “scouts” to watch the Dublin minor training ahead of Sunday’s final, and was more than impressed by what he saw.
“They had up to 42 players on their panel, about six coaches on the pitch, and also access to video analysis, and again all the best sports science. And Dublin will continue to attract commercial backing, whether it’s a car company, or nutritional product, sportswear, so their resources are going to continue to grow. “So the GAA will have to assist the other counties, not just with money, but training resources, because the counties themselves will not close the gap.
“Otherwise it will be a three-tier system. Dublin will be out on their own, they’ll be a couple of counties who periodically will be able to give them a game, and then a third tier, of those even further back. It will be just like the Scottish football league, really. And to say Carlow or Leitrim are ever going to beat Dublin is just irrational.”
Putting on his sports psychologist’s hat, Hackett also believes Dublin are creating an extra mental challenge for their opposition, on top of the physical one: “What happens is easy enough to see. You heard Mick O’Dowd after Sunday’s defeat, trying to suggest that performance didn’t reflect the work Meath had done. But it’s like West Ham against Barcelona.
“West Ham will think they’ve a lot going on, and are training well, but Barcelona are just on a different level. And Dublin are on that different level now.
Crucial goals“So teams go in and battle with them for 20 or 30 minutes, and the Dublin get a couple of crucial goals, and suddenly it’s a six -point gap, a seven-point gap, and that begins to seep into the players. One player stops running for the opposition, or stops making an attack, and that becomes two or three players.
“That was very notable towards the end of the game on Sunday, with some of the Meath kick-outs. Players just did not want the ball. It’s a subconscious thing, but they just stop working. They’re thinking ‘will somebody please end this thing quick...’
“Again that’s part of the psychology of it, because you think you’ve done all the right training, all the right preparation, but when things don’t go well it just comes down like an avalanche on top of you.”
Attendances at Leinster football finals, Hackett suggests, will also suffer if Dublin’s dominance continues as expected: Sunday’s final attracted 62,660, up on last year’s figure of 54,485, but down on the years in the 2000s when the attendance went above 80,000.
“I think it was the anticipation of Dublin success that attracted the 80,000-plus. But you’ll never get that again as long as Dublin as expected to win. And you can take it that Dublin will win eight or nine of the next 10 Leinster titles. It’s there to be seen.
“I think as well you have to consider the vision of other counties. It’s all very well setting up development squads, but it’s what you do with those squads. You need to have the vision to know what you want to get out of them. Pull out Dublin’s Strategic Plan from 10 years ago. All of this was planned, and envisaged. And I think John Costello deserves a lot of credit. Not only is he a full time administrator, but he’s immersed in football and hurling, and knew exactly what he wanted to see from Dublin. I don’t think many other counties can honestly share that same vision.