Critically, the Westmeath ace believes the Dublin team they will face in the Leinster quarter-finals this weekend are among the group. And Westmeath aren’t.
The 33-year-old admitted that as he winds down his career, he has been struck by the gap that has developed between the haves and the have nots. He said the 17 and 18-point drubbings administered to Tipperary and Limerick respectively at the weekend highlights the ever widening chasm.
Worryingly for Westmeath, who gained promotion from Division 2 this year, he claimed the gulf in class also extends to the Division 2 teams who, by his estimations, are some way off elite level. It’s a sombre thought for Lake County fans ahead of their shot at glory on Saturday evening when they will seek to repeat their famous win of 2004 over the Dubs.
“I think there’s six teams in Ireland and they’ve just gone through the roof in terms of preparation,” said Dolan.
“Never before have I seen a situation where Division 4 teams are getting beaten the way they are. And I would be concerned about the way that’s happening. I’ve watched a lot of Division 1 games. There’s definitely a difference, a big difference even between Division 1 and Division 2. As I was playing all those years, I didn’t see it as evident as I do now. A lot of the teams can’t keep up to that level. There’s a couple of elite teams and the rest of us are just making up the numbers.”
Dolan reckons a big part of the problem is access to finances enjoyed by top counties.
“Finance would definitely be an issue,” continued the 33-year-old. “When you hear Donegal going for a training camp from a Tuesday to a Saturday, the first question I ask is, ‘Are none of them working?’ GPS systems, you see a lot of teams having that in place too. Okay, some Division 4 teams had it. But it’s just money again.
“Training camps, nutritionists, you hear Andy Moran of Mayo had an individual coach to get him back after his injury. It’s the level of professionalism those teams are going to. It is remarkable but it’s about finances too.”
Dublin are certainly one of the big six teams that Dolan is referring to. They have an official hotel partner in the Gibson Hotel, a base layer clothing deal with Skins and are supplied with products by ROS Nutrition.
Of course Dublin effectively enjoy home advantage at Croke Park too.
“It’s Dublin’s eighth game at Croke Park this weekend, out of 10 this year,” noted Dolan.
“I’m fair enough to realise that, in terms of the GAA, we do need teams like Dublin financing a lot of the operations that go on, so there’s nothing we can about the Croke Park issue. But it would be lovely to see Dublin come down to Mullingar.
“The shoe would be on the other foot in that situation. It’d be a hostile environment for them coming down but it’s not going to happen. We have to accept it and we’re just looking forward to it now.”
Dolan isn’t without hope though. He believes manager Pat Flanagan is developing a talented new team. He rates midfielder John Heslin as one of the best young talents in the game.
For Dolan himself, this could be his last shot at the Dubs as he only came back after missing 2012 to ‘finish off’ his career on a proper note.
“I went to America for my own reasons last year,” said Dolan. “Garrycastle had a long year. My wife had just got pregnant and I decided to go away for a break but to keep it to ourselves. We went away to Boston for the summer and no-one really knew about my wife being pregnant and it was grand. I was never going to just leave Westmeath in those circumstances. It wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.
“I’ve always had a very good relationship with the players, the supporters, managers I’ve been involved with and when Pat [Flanagan] rang me, I had no hesitation going back. I felt I owed everyone to finish off properly.”