Dublin’s strength in depth confined to forward line, warns Whelan

Ciarán Whelan

Given that Dublin substitutes have kicked a staggering 4-35 in their last eight Championship games, it’s tempting to suggest Dublin’s B team is the second best in Ireland.

Former star Ciarán Whelan goes along with the argument, but only to a point.

The midfielder who once carried the hopes of an underachieving county on his broad shoulders accepts their forward options right now are indeed chilling.

It is reflected in the big tallies they keep putting up and the giant winning margins they consistently enjoy in Championship football — averaging out at 14 points under Jim Gavin.

But Whelan draws the line at suggestions they have like for like replacements in the defence and midfield areas.

Take Stephen Cluxton and Michael Darragh Macauley out of the team and it is a considerably poorer one, something Leinster final opponents Meath will surely have homed in on.

“The funny thing about all this talk about Dublin’s strength in depth is that it’s only really from 10 to 15,” claimed Whelan. “If they lose one or two players from two to nine, it changes the whole dynamic of the team.

“This theory about these players that are coming through, the reality is that it’s really important for Dublin that the guys there from two to nine stay fit.

“Like, Ger Brennan is out injured, he’s been out for a considerable amount of time. They’re quite limited with their resources in the back line.

“Macauley is crucial in terms of the link-up play that he brings and the pace he injects on the ground. That is a concern, that they’ve got to keep all those guys fit and healthy.”

Whelan isn’t tipping Dublin to lose to Meath in Sunday’s Leinster final, far from it. Even with those minor question marks he has raised, he still believes they will overpower their old rivals for the third time in a row.

But he reckons it could be an intriguing contest like last year’s final was for around an hour.

“Dublin just have to ensure they get their matchups right, they have to identify Meath’s strengths, they have to know that Stephen Bray is a serious operator if he is left in space, one on one,” continued Whelan.

“They have to watch Graham Reilly breaking off the middle and be conscious that Paddy O’Rourke’s kick outs can land on the half-forward line and that, if they break the wrong side for Dublin, they could be in trouble.

“So I think Dublin have to nullify some of Meath’s strengths. I think if they do, and if they are focused, I struggle to see where Meath can get at them. But if Dublin don’t, then it becomes a shoot-out and they could find themselves behind, like they have done in previous games. Then they will rely on the impetus and the pace in the third quarter when Meath faded a bit against Kildare. The pace that Dublin can bring off the bench in that period can get at the Meath midfield and particularly their defence. I think the Meath defence would be a worry in the second half when they begin to tire and Dublin can cause them a lot of problems.”

Whelan admitted that Championship matches against Meath are “the one day of the calendar year I miss most as an inter-county player”.


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