Former All-Ireland winning captain John O’Leary has offered a stinging assessment of the Leinster football championship, claiming Dublin’s rivals are all “obsessed” with them.
The ex-Dubs selector is adamant his county’s decade-long dominance of Leinster is only partly-down to the arsenal of talent at their disposal.
Dublin face Kildare on Sunday as hot favourites to advance to a 10th provincial final in 11 seasons and bookies believe their fifth consecutive title success is already a given.
O’Leary says it’s got to the point where Dublin’s rivals believe they’re going to lose before even setting foot on the pitch. And he lamented the kind of comment made by Meath’s Graham Reilly immediately after the quarter-final win over Wicklow when he suggested the Royal County are “miles off Dublin”. “What’s that all about? Meath people are hearing that.”
O’Leary insists that kind of inferiority complex is not limited to Meath and believes every team that has faced Dublin in recent years has been guilty of psyching themselves out.
He admits the comments may not go down well in Leinster and accepts he could be “assassinated outside the M50” but he believes it’s a huge problem that must be addressed to improve competitiveness in the province.
“They’re obsessed with Dublin, the population, the money they get from sponsorship, blah blah blah and all these advantages they have,” claimed O’Leary. “But ultimately Dublin can only put 15 fellas on the pitch anyway.
“It’s interesting when you hear counties talking and saying their population is X and they’ve only got so many clubs. Immediately, I hear an in-built excuse for when it goes wrong. It’s, ‘Ah, it was the population thing’.
“I remember Leitrim won a Connacht title. They had the same problem with population then in 1994 as now. Two years previous, Clare won a Munster title and played in an All-Ireland semi-final.
“You can’t use population as your problem. Tipperary minors winning an All-Ireland minor, Tipp U21s getting to an All-Ireland final. The problem is when you get to the next level, then they’re obsessed with Dublin.
“Which is great for Dublin because Dublin just ploughs on and does what it does. Everyone is looking in and saying they have it easier. But I’ve had this debate with lots of fellas around the country. I’ve said, ‘Your problem is that you’re not looking at your own’.”
O’Leary managed Wicklow in the early 2000s and claimed they produced similar footballers to then-dominant Armagh but without the same belief. He suggests it’s a similar problem now for Dublin’s Leinster rivals and he includes Kildare in that assessment.
“I think that all of those counties spend too much time talking about Dublin and not about themselves,” continued O’Leary.
“They’ll have a reasonable level of success and then they’ll run into a brick wall and say, ‘Ah, it’s easy for Dublin because they have the population, it’s easy for Dublin because they play in Croke Park, it’s easy for Dublin because of all this stuff’.
“I make this point: what’s the population of Donegal? How come they win an All-Ireland and are in another All-Ireland final shortly after? Look at the geography of that county with the mountains breaking it up, they have lots of problems but they can still get over them.”
Kildare at least carry vital momentum into Sunday’s provincial semi-final, having unloaded on Laois with a barrage of second-half scores in their recent quarter-final replay.
“Of course they have a chance,” said O’Leary. “Ultimately, for all the guff, it’s still about 15 fellas and one ball and four posts. But as the game trundles on, all that other stuff can come to the fore in fellas’ minds, maybe in a tight game with 10 minutes to go.”