And yet Dublin are an enigma to many, largely because they want to be. Like Pat Gilroy’s camp before him, nothing escapes the sanctity of Jim Gavin’s group aside from the odd mention of a training game scrap.
Going into tomorrow’s Leinster final on the back of eight straight championship wins under Gavin, here are as many ways All-Ireland champions continue to confound and perplex.
Dublin are not a cynical team but they looked like one in the closing stages of last year’s All-Ireland final. Under the rules this year, as many as three of their players would have seen black cards. Yet Dublin have quite remarkably gone through nine league games as well as a Leinster quarter-final and semi-final without one of their men being directed off the field for one of the three foul infractions. That record is down to phenomenal discipline and expert technique in stifling opponents in possession.
With Stephen Cluxton and Paul Flynn, he is among the three most important players in the Dublin team. In tandem with the other two, he has transformed how the modern midfield operates. But it was only three years ago, he was regarded as merely an athlete.
Monaghan’s Owen Lennon said of him and Denis Bastick: “If Dublin are the example of the way the game is going, then there is no place for a traditional midfielder. Bastick and Macauley are just athletes, they use the short kick-out more often and there is no room for the 50/50 kick-out.”
Interview requests directed towards either the former world bantamweight champion or Dublin’s communication manager have been turned down time and again. Why such mystery?
The hurlers have their own boxing champions in Michael Carruth who operates as a masseuse as much as a motivator.
Dunne’s official title is “sports performance and lifestyle coach” and it’s been suggested by management his role is more to do with the psychological side of things. However, well-placed sources say he’s heavily involved in the conditioning of the players.
Earlier this week, Ciarán Whelan rightly pointed out that Dublin’s options from the bench, while grand, do not extend to the defence.
It’s the standard at inter-county level for more alterations to be made in attack but in effect only two of their 12 subs in their last two games were made in their rearguard — Jack McCaffrey for Darren Daly in the Laois game and Michael Fitzsimons replacing Nicky Devereux against Wexford.
When Gavin needs to make an alteration at the back it usually means a re-jig with the on-field personnel.
Last year, the county’s Leinster championship campaign was lit up by Ciarán Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion.
They may have faded in the All-Ireland series but it was on their backs that the provincial crown was attained.
Kilkenny is out for the season but young player of the year McCaffrey started neither the quarter or semi-final while Mannion only returned for the last day out against Wexford.
Even the electric Cormac Costello has up until now been unable to nail down a starting spot.
Is Gavin treating them mean to keep them keen? Regardless, Dublin are achieving the same results.
“We’re gonna score one more than you,” was the refrain from the England 1998 World Cup Vindaloo song and it springs to mind when considering Gavin’s Dublin.
When they won a Division 1 title last year playing expansive football it was dismissed as the vagaries of spring, but there was to be no let-up come the summer.
There hasn’t been since. It’s not that Dublin neglect their defensive responsibilities but the focus is centred on how they can beat and not how they can stop teams.
Dean Rock’s substitution at half-time against Wexford might have come across as harsh but Gavin hasn’t been afraid to make such calls early in games.
Jason Whelan was taken off before half-time in the Division 1 semi-final against Cork after a tough time of it.
Indeed, going back to last season Gavin would be known to make personnel switches in his attack earlier in games than a lot of his fellow managers.
It’s a bugbear among the best observers of the game that so many teams appear to follow the All-Ireland champions like sheep.
One size does not fit all in either code. If the contrast between Donegal and Dublin don’t prove that then look at the 2012 and ’13 hurling winners Kilkenny and Clare.
Last year, Davy Fitzgerald’s birthday was marked by his players giving him the “birthday bumps” at training, a ritual he had encouraged among his charges.
Could anyone ever imagine the Kilkenny panel doing the same to Brian Cody?
Whatever about following Dublin’s style, teams have been taking a leaf out of their book away from match day.
The practice of putting subs up to speak at pre-match press conferences began in earnest with this Dublin set-up. Likewise, it appears they have given other counties ideas about pulling players from speaking at commercial events. Dublin may say it works for them but it’s bemusing why so many others think the same applies to them.