Who can bring a halt to Dublin’s winning habit?

It’s eight years since Dublin last lost a game of senior football in Leinster and Michael Fitzsimons has reason to remember it well.

Who can bring a halt to Dublin’s winning habit?

The Dubs had claimed five straight provincial titles by the time he hooked up with Pat Gilroy’s squad in 2010 but that sequence would be shattered with the concession of five goals against Meath in that season’s semi-final.

The Cuala defender, only 21 at the time and a string of beans compared to the more muscular athlete who takes the field these days, was on Cian Ward that day and taken for 1-1 by the Wolfe Tones forward.

“Yeah, that was my first year on the panel, and Dublin won what, five before that? I wasn’t going in thinking Leinster was a foregone conclusion, so it probably was a bit different, but I remember it vividly. We got a great lesson from Meath that day.

We learnt a huge amount from it. Lads know there have been some Leinster games where we really underperformed through the years and were lucky to get through. Lads are still aware of that and push hard so it doesn’t happen.

They must have long memories, indeed.

Dublin won four of their next six provincial games by four points or less on the way to claiming the 2011 and 2012 Leinster titles but there has hardly been the hint of a contest, let along a shock, in the seasons since.

Twelve of their last 15 games in the province have been won by double figures and they were on a run of ten such strolls in a row before Meath and then Kildare kept them slightly more honest last year.

Both still lost by nine points.

Their average winning margin in the east since Meath caught them on the hop stands at 11.5 with Louth, Longford, Kildare, Westmeath, Laois, Meath and Carlow all losing by at least ten points or more in that time frame.

Not so much a competition, then, as a death zone.

The likelihood is that it will prove to be the same old graveyard for the other 11 counties and that Dublin will emerge from its confines towards the end of June and into the new Super 8s with an historic fourth consecutive All-Ireland in their sights.

Fitzsimons knows he is contributing to a golden era, one of the most enriching experienced by any county in the long history of the GAA, so hunger, or a lack of it, will be no issue as they press on.

I wouldn’t be listening too much to stuff outside it, naturally enough, but … what keeps it fresh is new lads coming through and the work done by (county football development officer) Stephen O’Shaughnessy and the lads on those underage teams.

“They’ve produced some great lads. We’ve had interactions with them because we used to do coaching in some of the underage camps. It’s a bit special when you coach lads at U15, 14 or 16 camps and suddenly they’re playing with you and you saw that.

“Not that we had any impact on their development, but you got a little snapshot of it and you built a little bit of rapport with them for two or three weeks over summer and then you eventually play with them. It’s great.”

That evolution has been critical to the county’s success.

Ten of the players who played in that breakthrough All-Ireland final success seven years ago contributed to Mayo’s downfall last September and eight of those have played in all four of the deciders since.

It’s a core that has been consistently but carefully supplemented. Only 33 players have actually featured in that quintet of finals with a drip feed of two new faces in 2015, three more 12 months later and another pair in 2017.

With nine of the 21 from last year’s All-Ireland final participants into their thirties now, and serious doubts as to whether Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly will play this summer, more changes again will be needed to keep Dublin at the top.

No bother, according to Fitzsimons.

“It keeps lads on their feet but it also keeps things a lot more interesting.”

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