To get an idea of just how driven and focused Jim Gavin’s Dublin are to put back-to-back All Ireland titles together, cast your mind back to the first rather than the last game of this year’s national league.
Again their opponents were Kerry, again the venue was Croke Park. Again Dublin won convincingly, holding Kerry goalless while finding the net twice themselves. Afterwards we didn’t put too much store on Kerry’s challenge, as their preparations were compromised by being only back in the country a few weeks after being in Miami on a team holiday.
The thing about it though was Kerry were playing a team that had also contested the previous September’s All-Ireland final and had availed of a team holiday that goes with such an achievement.
Only Dublin had theirs in early December. They wanted to park 2015 in 2015.
They did the same in 2013. The cut-off point for all celebratory functions and rewards was December 8. That day they reported back as a unit. In their minds they already had a month’s head-start on whom they viewed as their greatest challengers, the previous September’s All-Ireland finalists Mayo.
There was another interesting feature to Dublin’s celebrations that autumn. Jim Gavin wasn’t seen next to the Sam Maguire Cup from the Monday after that win over Mayo. The optics of the previous year’s winners wasn’t lost on him, where Jim McGuinness seemed inseparable from the cup while his right-hand man, Rory Gallagher, never even received a Celtic Cross medal. It was another classic case of the term the NBA coach Pat Riley coined and Mickey Harte echoed – the Disease of Me, where people battle for and resent the proportionality of the credit they’re getting. Dublin could have been vulnerable to it, and possibly even affected by it to some degree in 2012, but Gavin’s steady management ensured it didn’t happen on his beat by first leading by example.
It has meant Gavin himself probably does not get the credit he deserves for the masterful coaching and management job he is doing. Just remember, he’s won these four leagues on the trot without any representation from the county champions until at least late February, and in three of the four years, after St Patrick’s Day. The last three of those league finals have been won by margins of 15, 11, and 11 points. Winning back-to- back All-Irelands is not yet an inevitability, but do we see anything stopping them winning six leagues in a row? Other than Stephen Cluxton’s retirement, no. It’s something not always meant as a compliment, but Dublin are a great league team, the best the game has known since the second world war, and on the verge of usurping the Kerry and Tyrone teams of the noughties as the best team football has known since O’Dwyer’s Kerry.
Each Dublin manager of the past 10 years has pushed on the project significantly. First, Pillar Caffrey, moving them from also-rans to legit contenders; Gilroy then taking them from contenders – and momentarily, startled earwigs – to champions. You look at the legacy Gilroy has given this Dublin team, especially in establishing DCU as a base for the team, but in so many other ways, like, along with secretary John Costello, indentifying the benefits of moving Dublin’s home league games from Parnell to Croke Park; you cannot underestimate the competitive advantage that added familiarity has given Dublin. He left Dublin in a great spot, but it was one that in the wrong hands, could have been squandered.
You look at other potential dynasties that went to waste. Cork post-O’Grady/Allen. Tipp post-Nickey and post-Sheedy. The Mayo players obviously felt the standards from the Horan era weren’t meant by the management of 2015. Gavin raised Dublin’s. Considering Gavin wasn’t a selector to Gilroy, we can’t think of a better external handover in Gaelic Games.
This All-Ireland will be no procession for them; between them, at least two of Kerry, Tyrone and Mayo will get a crack at them and foam at the prospect. Kerry have issues, most notably a lack of cover in their backline, but just bear in mind how little you’ve heard, let alone seen, of James O’Donoghue in recent months. Kerry will be a different prospect with him. They now have a few months now to try out different tactical possibilities on the training ground that the league, with its constant barrage of games, doesn’t allow. But athletically and physically, they’re off the level of a Dublin.
Does every single player have his own individual programme or is he just working of a general team template? In years gone by, some Kerry players almost prided themselves on not religiously adhering to the benefits of strength & conditioning; they’d enough ball to compensate for any fitness advantage an opponent had.
Dublin do not afford you that luxury. To beat them, every member of Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s backroom has to feel they are outworking and outsmarting their Dublin equivalent – and his colleague alongside him is as well. Every player has to feel they are doing everything, because right now, Dublin are beating them on every count – technically, tactically, mentally, and especially physically - athletically. Dublin may be caught yet this year by a Kerry, Tyrone, or Mayo; despite having the early holiday and retaining the league, they did not hold on to Sam in 2014. But they’re still geared to win at least two of the next three, like Gilroy positioned them to, and which no other setup in football is.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved