Tendency to succumb to fallow periods could see Dublin's returns diminished
Lapses in concentration might not cost Dublin this evening but could prove very costly before the end of September, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
THEY’RE ALL-IRELAND champions. They haven’t lost a game in the championship since the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final. They’re 2 to 1 favourites to hoist the Sam Maguire Cup in September, having been blessed by the lighter side of the draw.
Yet ask around, shine a light into the eyes of the most fervent Dub and ponder this – does anyone believe they’re nailed on? No, they do not.
Capable of it, yes. Most likely winners, maybe. Best side? No way. Cork are longer odds going into this weekend but only because they’ve a rockier-looking road ahead of them. Handed Dublin’s draw, you wouldn’t see an offering of anything like 2/1 about Conor Counihan’s side.
Odds don’t matter and conjecture fizzles like spit on a hot pavement but this strain of uncertainty about Dublin’s ability to close out a second All-Ireland has to have its roots in something. The truth of it is every Dublin performance this summer has left room for reasonable doubt. The Louth game was against straw men and can be discarded. But against Wexford and Meath, they ended up having to lean far harder into the shovel than they ought to have, given their superiority.
On both occasions, they fell into a trap they’re well-acquainted with. They switched off. They dawdled. They let the game go ahead without them. This isn’t an observer’s thought – it’s their own diagnosis.
“It was something in the past that we definitely struggled with,” admits corner-back Michael Fitzsimons. “Against Meath you could sense we were going off the boil but you’re focusing on the game as well. We needed something to get us going and I know Stephen [Cluxton] in goal was roaring at us to get us going. It takes someone to make a big play to get you out of that lull and stop you falling back on yourselves. We can’t afford to do that to the same extent now.”
It’s an old burn with Dublin but one that Pat Gilroy seemed to have smothered last season. The outlier semi-final against Donegal aside, the Dublin team of last summer were always relentless adders to the scoreboard and in the periods where they weren’t, they made sure their opposition was becalmed as well.
Three times against Kildare in last year’s Leinster semi-final, they went more than 10 minutes without scoring. All the post-match talk that day was about the dubious free on Aindriú MacLochlainn at the end but the key to Dublin’s win was the fact they stopped Kildare scoring when they weren’t scoring themselves.
Even then, Eamonn O’Callaghan’s late goal that day was a classic switch-off score to concede – Kildare had just about punched themselves out by that stage and the Dublin defenders left him to each other as he ran through.