After the casual dismantling of Laois three weeks ago, it was without any hint of irony that Jim Gavin informed the nation in his post match TV interview that he knew little or nothing about the next team up to the chopping board, Wexford.
Based on his pre-match interview for tomorrow’s Leinster semi-final, the analysis carried out since has been focused and forensic. Gavin might have been totally honest in his claim in relation to Wexford, but one only has to reference Eamon Fitzmaurice’s end-of-year interview on these pages last January to know that by Sunday evening of June 8 a dossier was put in front of him containing all he needed to know about Wexford.
Fitzmaurice spoke of going to watch Kerry’s next opponents, Clare or Cork, this time last year and seeing a member of Dublin’s backroom team up from him in the stand equipped with an i-Pad to aid his statistical analysis of the game. Of course Dublin didn’t know then that they would be meeting Cork on the August bank holiday weekend, but the mere possibility of such an encounter was enough reason to dispatch a scout to Munster.
That’s just the level Dublin are at, and it’s one of the many reasons they are looking good again this year.
What then will Gavin have learnt of Wexford and of his own troops ahead of their latest battle? He will have seen from their respective Leinster quarter-finals that Dáithí Waters and Paddy Byrne are athletic enough at midfield to track the runs that give Dublin the options they need from Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts. He will have known already that Ciarán Lyng is a similar type of player to Ross Munnelly’s whose ability to get his shot off in limited space offered tantalising glimpses three weeks ago of how Dublin might be troubled at the back.
Gavin will also have noticed that the new black card sanctions suit the type of runs Ben Brosnan makes and that Adrian Flynn attacks in the same manner that yielded some success for Darren Strong of Laois.
When Gavin reflects on Dublin’s game he will yearn for the return of Ger Brennan because as good and all as a tuned-in Rory Carroll is, he still needs Brennan’s sense of how and when to sit in the pocket in front of him.
For an apparently ordinary player, Brennan has an extraordinary knack of making the players around him look better . Dublin are also missing his ability to bring the ball out of defence and add impetus to the transition from defence to attack. These would be viewed as first world problems for most teams considering the quality of player deputising for Brennan, but it’s hardly ideal for Gavin.
Both Wexford and Dublin missed three or four glorious goal opportunities three weeks ago. Given the way Dublin set up, they may well present Wexford with a further three or four decent goal chances again tomorrow, but I don’t expect the starting Dublin forwards to be as wayward this time, especially with the subs starting to remind Gavin of their scoring power.
The curtain raiser tomorrow between Kildare and Meath is more difficult to read.
It’s a little over two years since former stalwarts such as Colm O’Rourke and Trevor Giles were lamenting the fact that in the previous eight seasons Meath had failed to reach a single Leinster U21 final, exiting in the first round on five occasions . The vast majority of Meath’s senior team have no medals, no big game winning experience. The U21s lost to Kildare in 2005 by 18 points, in 2006 by eight and in 2008 by 12. It was no surprise back then that Meath had lost their last six matches at senior level to Kildare.
On the face of it, Meath appear to be getting their act together. They ambushed Kildare in Croke Park two years ago and later got to an All-Ireland minor final with a team that has already provided Padraic Harnan and Cillian O’Sullivan to the senior set-up. Tomorrow will tell whether or not the situation has stabilised to the extent that they can ambush Kildare for the second time in three seasons.
One of the few revealing fingerposts of potential was their draw away to Donegal in Ballybofey last March. Coming in the wake of a particularly bad home defeat to Armagh, Meath backs were to the wall at the time. It is never easy to get a result in Ballybofey but Meath were within a Michael Murphy kick of a ball of being the first visiting team to defeat Jim McGuinness’s Donegal at county headquarters.
That appeared to be a turning point in their season until injury robbed them of key performers such as Conor Gillespie, Eamonn Wallace and, more recently, Mickey Newman who twanged his hamstring. Newman, and many others, were on song when trouncing Carlow a few weeks back but that game was of little or no use in that they will have learned nothing about themselves in such a one-sided affair Brian Meade and Bryan Menton are well matched with Tommy Moolick and Paudie O’ Neill but the Meath duo have missed an awful lot of game time through injury in recent times.
The recasting of Damien Carroll as a thinking man’s wing-back strengthens an already decent half-back line but in the Kildare half-forward they will face pace (Cathal McNally), guile (Eamonn Callaghan) and serious ball-winning ability in the form of Seán Hurley. Carroll might end up deciding that he prefers the environment up front..
While Kildare might hope to profit around the middle with Hurley’s height advantage, we can expect Meath to withdraw Graham Reilly out towards midfield and ask him to make those long, lung-bursting runs of his from deep. If Emmet Bolton is chosen to follow Reilly, it could work to Kildare’s advantage as Bolton has done serious damage to Meath as an attacking wing back in the past.
There are many potential mismatches and as many potential matchwinners on both sides.
Expect Meath corner-backs, Caolan Young and Mickey Burke to struggle on Paddy Brophy and Niall Kelly. On the other side, Shane O’Rourke could be a proper handful for Fergal Conway and Stephen Bray’s darts and jinks might trouble Mick Foley who is comfortable in making straight-line dashes but less assured when required to turn quickly.
Because of the lop-sided nature of their quarter final victories, I’d be slow to make any confident predictions, but Kildare appear to have more pace. That has to count for something in Croke Park and thus, I expect Dublin and Kildare to be back on the hallowed turf to contest the Leinster final in three weeks time.