Ciarán Whelan: The boys in blue are the All Blacks of GAA

Dublin footballer Paul Mannion

To describe this great team of Jim Gavin’s, Ciarán Whelan turns to capital sage Jimmy Rabbitte for inspiration.

Dublin are the All Blacks of Ireland, he says. He can’t identify a threat to them. Kerry’s defence, he feels, is too shaky.

As for Mickey Harte’s assertion that Dublin are vulnerable, Whelan questions the premise of the Tyrone manager’s argument.

I can’t see any justification for that. If you’re calling vulnerability on the back of a league performance, you could say everybody is vulnerable. I don’t see where the substance is coming to make that judgement.

“Playing league football in February and March and making a judgment around vulnerability, in my opinion, is a little bit early. Yes, Bernard Brogan is gone. He’s going to be a loss but he wasn’t starting in the team last year.

“Diarmuid Connolly is gone and there is no doubt he’s going to be a significant loss if he doesn’t return. I don’t think there’s as much depth in defence as they have in the forward line and for me their key players are Cluxton, Fenton, Kilkenny, Mannion, O’Callaghan. These are key guys. It’s nearly a new breed they’re reliant on now to perform.”

If anything, the former Dublin midfielder feels Dublin were annoyed by how their third consecutive All-Ireland title was perceived given the criticism of players’ behaviour in dragging down or pushing opponents when David Clarke prepared to restart after Dean Rock’s winning free.

“I think it was a fantastic achievement but it’s like any success. When they done three in a row, the night of the final was more about splitting Dublin in two and the manner in which they won. There was various stuff thrown at them post-All-Ireland. And I’m only surmising that might have got under their skin and they said, ‘Right, let’s go out and deliver four in a row. I think that translates into their league form and they’ve kept themselves in peak condition and they want to do it.”

There isn’t any evidence to suggest their appetite has waned.

I don’t think you can question their hunger. Teams are always a little bit vulnerable after their first win. Dublin were vulnerable after 2011, they lost in 2012 and in 2014. They learned lessons along the way.

“There’s a culture within the group that winning is not going to affect them moving forward. Again, I’d say they were pissed off that they didn’t get the recognition (they deserved) after doing three in a row last year.

“I think they’ve just become so used to winning. I think it’s the culture that’s within the dressing room. They know how to win. You can compare them to the New Zealand rugby team. Whatever principles they’re working to, it’s working.”

This weekend’s clash against Wicklow is obviously a mismatch and Whelan has long maintained the provincial championships have passed their sell-by date. He would like to see the likes of John Evans’ side enter a Super 16s, akin to rugby’s European Challenge Cup, while Dublin compete it out in top eight.

For me, I think the Super 8s will reinvigorate the championship. I’ve always been for it. I’d like to see Super 8s go to Super 16s to be honest and have a Super 16s for the remaining counties as well.

“We have to cater for the weaker counties and everybody has some sort of equal chance at the start of the year to be in the (top tier).

“If you equate it to rugby, the European Challenge Cup and the European Champions Cup.

“I’m not a big fan of the provincial systems, I think they’re imbalanced and they create a lot of inconsistencies. But you’d like to think the Super 8s could become the Super 16s with a secondary competition that is marketed and kept as high profile as possible.”

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