GAA weekend that was: Putting Dublin’s run in context
Meanwhile, the intriguing championship storylines in Ulster are starting to take shape
Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton poses from photographs with supporters after their draw with Kerry which saw them equal the Kingdom’s unbeaten record. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
The great event came and went at the weekend in Tralee and Dublin duly equalled the home county’s 84-year old record of going 34 league and championship matches unbeaten.
It was a close-run thing with Paul Mannion equalising at the death – just as he did in the 2013 league’s last round, against Donegal, which not alone relegated their opponents, the then All-Ireland champions, but also ensured that Jim Gavin’s team would remain unbeaten from that year’s March 13th defeat – the only one that season – by Tyrone, until March 1st 2014 when they lost to Cork in Croke Park, 0-18 to 1-17.
Comparing achievements across nearly a century is futile but a couple of points can be made: Dublin’s championship haul is less impressive than their four-in-a-row predecessors from 1929 to 1932 but their league displays are more striking, as they have taken place in an hierarchical league with a very competitive Division One.
Kerry could argue that whereas their team of 84 years ago drew only one match in their sequence, Dublin have shared the spoils on six occasions, twice against Mayo in the championship, twice against Tyrone in the league and now this season, away to Donegal and Kerry.
Although it would be unprecedented should Dublin, as expected, beat or avoid defeat against Roscommon to establish a new bench mark of 35, how difficult is it to construct a run of this nature?
In order to consider Dublin’s main rivals in football over the past two years, take the counties who have played in both the All-Ireland quarter-finals of 2015 and 2016 and look at their track record over the two-and-a-bit seasons since the champions were last beaten.
Probably the most surprising thing about the figures is how similar the seasons have been for everyone, regardless of province with the four counties in question bunched behind Dublin on 32 and 31 matches played, respectively.
Dublin: P34 L0 [0 per cent defeat]
Tyrone: P31 L5 [16 per cent]
Kerry: P31 L8 [26 per cent]
Mayo: P32 L12 [38 per cent]
Donegal: P32 L13 [41 per cent]
Tyrone’s impressive record has to be qualified by the fact that the 2016 league season was spent in Division Two where they were unbeaten whereas the other counties were exposed to competition at the top level in both years.
When counties with as strong a record in the championship as Mayo and Donegal are returning loss rates of around 40 per cent and even Kerry, 26 per cent, a pristine record over nearly three dozen matches is undeniably impressive.
One possibly significant detail, as the league moves towards its end and references to the championship start to pick up, is that Tyrone have one obvious psychological advantage among the chasing pack. Mickey Harte’s team hasn’t lost to Dublin in nearly three years.
Admittedly the counties have met only twice, both times in the league at Croke Park where they drew on each occasion but the other counties have fared significantly worse. Kerry have lost three times during Dublin’s current sequence and Saturday’s draw was the best result since they won the league fixture that was the last defeat for Jim Gavin’s team.
Mayo have lost five of seven matches with Dublin and drawn the other two whereas Donegal, like Kerry have lost three and drawn one during the period in question.
Finally Gavin’s record is remarkable: now into a fifth season as manager, his team have lost just five league and one championship match from 63 in that period – a loss percentage of just 9.5.
Donegal’s inflicting a first defeat of the season on Tyrone was just the latest instalment in what has become an enduring rivalry this decade. That’s not to overlook Monaghan, who have moved into the top four (all on seven points) of Division One, just behind Dublin and their Ulster rivals – both of whom they have had no difficulties in beating and with whom they have shared the last eight provincial titles.
But it was Tyrone and Donegal who contested last year’s Ulster final in which Tyrone’s victory was seen as further evidence of a shifting balance in the province, as Donegal’s All-Ireland winning team began the process of breaking up. On Sunday in Ballybofey, just four of the 2012 team – Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn and Michael Murphy – started.
The counties have had an unusual relationship for elite teams this decade and have played more often in the championship than in the league. Last July’s provincial final was their fifth meeting in six years – and the first one that Tyrone had won.
Their league back catalogue has been affected by the pair of them strangely alternating between the top two divisions. Even though they have between them spent four of the past seven seasons in Division Two, it has never happened at the same time.
It may be only the league but in Rory Gallagher’s first year in charge in 2015 when the team looked to be running on empty after the All-Ireland disappointment at the hands of Kerry the previous September, they still managed to spring a crushing 10-point defeat on their neighbours during the spring.
The following May they duly followed that up with a championship victory.
If they win their first-round matches in Ulster they’re set for another championship meeting on June 18th. Tyrone could argue that even if Donegal’s reminder that they haven’t gone away proves correct, Mickey Harte’s have actually out-lasted their rivals after losing to them in 2013 and 2015 – reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals with their provincial conquerors departing a round earlier.