However, while there can be little doubt that the Dubs will again be favourites in Croke Park tomorrow, their supporters and the public at large will need to be convinced that manager Pat Gilroy’s re-structuring of the team will make them more competitive when it matters most, in another two months.
The statistic showing that eight of the players who started against Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year is revealing, but it is somewhat misleading as the selection of the championship 15 has been an evolving process. Three of the newcomers lined out in the flood-lit opening League game (also against Tyrone), while the team which started against Kerry in the sixth round was almost identical to the combination the management have chosen.
What’s interesting is that there was no place for either Ciarán Whelan or Shane Ryan at midfield or for Bryan Cullen either at half-back or half-forward. All three were regulars under the Paul Caffrey reign and Whelan in particular was always viewed as a pivotal figure even if he didn’t always deliver on the big day.
Cullen’s omission in particular is a surprise, given that Gilroy has opted for young Paddy Andrews in the troublesome centre-forward role.
Meath have also been undergoing a transition and, most notably, Graham Geraghty (brought in by Sean Boylan in 1991) has retired for good, having done so previously in 2002.
New manager Eamonn O’Brien inherited a panel which had to be hurting badly after a shock defeat by Wexford in the Leinster quarter-final and an even more unexpected failure to Limerick in the first round of the qualifiers. However, he still has a lot of experience at his disposal. After a very poor start to the League away to Cork, they settled down to play some good football and achieve some good results – one of the best being a home win against Kildare in the last round which cost Kieran McGeeney’s side a place in the Division 2 final.
Nevertheless, on paper it looks a less formidable side than that which took Dublin to a replay two years ago and which subsequently impressed in the qualifier series before flopping against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final. While they may be lacking experience in defence, Nigel Crawford and Mark Ward are midfielders of quality and the likes of Cian Ward, Stephen Bray and Brian Farrell have a fair bit of scoring potential between them.
My feeling is that Dublin still pose the biggest threat in Leinster and it would be a surprise if they were to fail at the first hurdle.
* Verdict: Dublin