Meath must exploit chink in Dublin’s armour

There is something special about being the best, and the weight of expectation that accompanies it.

Meath  must exploit chink in Dublin’s armour

The endless need from the adoring public to see you at your best, to lead by example, to set the bar for everyone to reach and to constantly push this higher and higher, and finally to inspire people every time you step onto the field.

46,000 people paid to watch yesterday’s Leinster semi-finals and they wanted value for money. Proximo, in the film Gladiator, described it best when he said to Maximus prior to a contest, “I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you’ll win your freedom.”

Yesterday, Dublin fell well below that standard. The pedestrian pace and lethargy displayed in the first half must be a concern to Jim Gavin. The complete indifference or laissez faire attitude bordered on arrogance, a trait not commonly associated with this Dublin team, nor a welcomed one at that. What’s surprising is that this was an occasion for players to stake a place on the team for a Leinster final, so poor application should not have been an issue.

Let’s reflect on the starting forwards for Dublin. Only Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly are nailed-on starters. Connolly failed to register a score until the 55th minute and had only one other attempted shot. He never got out of warm-up mode and seemed to be happy to readily offload, once to Johnny Cooper, a man not renowned for scoring. Flynn fared better, though this year he is spending so much time helping out around midfield, which is taking away from his duties as a half-forward.

The other four were fighting for a start and you must feel this was their last chance to impress. Dean Rock, playing out of position, scored four points from frees but contributed little from play. Substituted at half time. Chance lost. Kevin McManamon, busy at the start trying to conjure goals, faded with a single wide to offer by the half-time whistle. Chance lost. Alan Brogan failed to impress and was taken off after 45 minutes. Chance lost. Paul Mannion was different though. He seemed to realise the gamble by Jim Galvin to play so many of his ‘unknowns’ and took full advantage with a dynamic, industrious and efficient attacking display.

The initial question that was asked after the match was: what have Dublin learned from winning so easily? Firstly, Jim Gavin now has 13 of his starting 15 players pencilled in when the real Championship starts in August. From goalkeeper through midfield, as played yesterday with Flynn, Connolly, Mannion and Cormac Costello in the forwards. Two places remain to be filled and crucially these positions are centre half-forward and full-forward. Secondly with the very encouraging display of Kevin Nolan at number six, Dublin can afford to leave Cian O’Sullivan at midfield and therefore Paul Flynn at 10. That is one less item on Gavin’s to-do list.

The second question concerned the system of play chosen by Wexford. Most wondered why the Model County weren’t more defensive. Managers and players must be honest to themselves. It is not reasonably possible for most teams to change a style of play from one match to another. You must therefore play to that system of which you are accustomed.

All Leinster counties play a similar open, non-defensive football style which for sure is the same as Dublin themselves play in-house A versus B matches, and which will be the same style Meath adapt. However in the business end of the season, will this be the very thing that catches Dublin out — the unfamiliarity with stress-testing themselves against such a system, or indeed the intensity which these teams bring to matches? Isn’t that arguably what has prevented Dr Crokes from winning All-Irelands club titles? Every team needs to find out what they are made of before the safety blanket is removed; this is what gives other counties the upper hand.

Meath remain too open in defence and rigid around the middle but they have a direct long ball style which will test the perceived weakest link in the Dublin team, the only line which does not have cover. To those, like myself, looking for ways to stall the march of this Dublin machine, these small things remain fascinating.

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