For over 100 years, ‘the bench’ was sport’s version of purgatory. A transition point between oblivion and opportunity. Dublin have done their utmost to change that perception and promote a squad ethos, but a reputation earned isn’t easy shed.
Just ask Kevin McManamon. Jim Gavin’s talk of ‘esprit de corp’ and assertions that numbers on backs must mean little to a man for whom it all too often takes two or more afternoons to amass 70 minutes.
It was his defining contribution as part of Pat Gilroy’s replacement blue wave that dragged Dublin over the finishing line against Kerry in the 2011 All-Ireland final, his 64th-minute goal teeing up Stephen Cluxton’s famous winning free.
It was an input that crystallised the perception that his place was as a man to turn to rather than one to start, but the St Jude’s forward did his damndest to do away with the cloak of cameo class in yesterday’s Leinster final.
Depicted as a battering ram, a Duracell bunny whose energy was best suited to the wide open fields of the second half rather than the cramped enclosures of the first, he exposed the simplicity of that argument on this occasion.
“I’ve heard that,” he said with a humouring smile when asked about the super sub tag by RTÉ’s Joanne Cantwell afterwards. “Maybe one day when I’m in my 30s I’ll get it off my back.”
His collection of 1-4 spoke volumes for his capabilities when the game is at its most compact and if there was one move that did more than any to knock down the walls that have pigeon-holed him, it came on the stroke of half-time.
As Alan Brogan bore down on one side of Meath’s defence, McManamon eschewed involvement and back-pedalled away from the goal on the other. A blocked shot and feed from Paul Mannion later and McManamon had the space to tap it over the bar.
There were other instances of McManamon’s footballing intelligence, his ability to find space and all-round ability for which he is rarely credited: clever movements off the ball here, dinked passes there. His trademark pace was evident, too.
The manner in which he took his goal, collecting, turning and haring past Pádraig Harnan before rifling to the net was vintage, but it was just one of many moments when pace burned Meath at the back.
Dublin have now scored seven goals and 66 points in seeing off Laois, Wexford and Meath, all of whom lined up for battle in the sort of open manner which wins friends but rarely holds a decisive influence in matches against the All-Ireland champions.
Dublin’s penchant for direct attacks and runners off the shoulder of the ball carrier is beautiful to watch and, while no one wants to see teams park the bus, one can only wonder when the favourites for Sam will face the blanket defence.
There are riders even here, too.
Laois employed the bunker tactic two years ago when under Justin McNulty’s guidance and, though the they lost by just three points, there was never a point in the entire 70 minutes when an upset seemed possible.
Yet the alternative has been all too apparent. Dublin’s ration of chances earned to chances taken continues to fall short of what it should be, but the sheer volume of opportunities engineered has mitigated that failing.
Half-a-dozen goal chances have been fashioned in all three of their games thus far, but it will be intriguing to witness the consequences when they face a Donegal or a Monaghan.
What is truly frightening is that the best defensive performance witnessed in their three outings thus far was their own yesterday when Meath were hounded and hindered in all five lines.
Much was made this last fortnight of Meath’s ability to match Dublin given the county’s tradition and history yet it was Dublin’s appetite for work and devotion to duty that was heightened by the counties’ shared heritage.
It was that hunger, that of the collective and individuals such as McManamon eager to state their own cases despite a CV littered with silverware, that did for Meath yesterday.
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