The Leinster Council’s decision to choose Nowlan Park as the venue for Dublin’s opening defence of their provincial title may have come from left-field, but the Kilkenny ground will not be virgin territory for all of Jim Gavin’s footballers.
Johnny Cooper and Diarmuid Connolly are two among the All-Ireland champions’ squad who have played hurling there – both were members of a Dublin minor panel that faced the Cats 10 years ago – and they will return in three weeks.
“When I was there, there wasn’t much of a crowd, but the surface itself was lovely,” said Cooper. “It’s a couple of years ago but I’m sure it’s still the same. From watching games and being at games it looks like a good place and a good atmosphere.”
Cooper was a 16-year old standing on a sunny terrace in Longford’s Pearse Park 10 years ago when the Dubs last played a provincial tie outside of Croke Park. And he sees the buzz over this latest field trip as one for the fans to excite about rather than the players.
For the squad, it is just business as usual. The winners of tomorrow’s Laois-Wicklow preliminary round tie will face them in Kilkenny, but the location is about the only thing to raise a murmur of interest, given the disparity in standards between the Dubs and everyone else in the province.
Cooper inadvertently highlighted the chasm when asked from where the biggest challenge will emanate in Leinster and he could reply with nothing more specific than “the Meaths and Kildares, etc”.
No county is making strides up the inside rail. That reality has generated considerable debate about the financial and demographic advantages enjoyed by the capital side, but there is a danger those issues – though valid and in need of action – could overshadow the abilities of such an incredible side.
The extent of their abilities was apparent again during another successful league campaign in which the losses of Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey from their defence were overcome by a combination of new faces and older ones like Cooper tweaking their to-do lists.
Dublin are blessed with an abundance of playing talent while Gavin has fished 10 trophies out of Gaelic football’s waters in less than four years as county manager. Cooper, for one, thinks that maybe due credit isn’t being apportioned his coach’s way.
“Jim has certainly brought a lot to the table – Jim and his coaching staff behind him and the players involved. Everyone has contributed in some small way to the actual success and you could probably say Jim is setting out that environment for everyone to follow into. Maybe he’s not getting the credit.
“I don’t know, I don’t think he wants the credit either. People do look at finances and everything else quite quickly before maybe pointing to … we put in the same time and the same effort as other teams, I’m presuming, so that maybe should be looked at first, as opposed to jumping to conclusions.”
The list of examples which could serve to demonstrate Dublin’s dominance of football in recent years is long and eclectic. Added to them yesterday was Cooper’s traipse back to the 2013 season and a game against Kildare for an individual error of his which led to the concession of a goal. It was nothing more than a slip and yet it still pecks away at him.
“Well, the situation itself was I just slipped but, pulling it all together, watching back at the time, I wouldn’t have been as good in terms of body position or as alert and as upright (as required),” he explained at the launch of the county’s new jersey.
“In other games, if I’m nice and sharp and always getting prodded, I feel like I’m always on the edge a little bit so I’m able to perform to my ability. Whereas, if I wasn’t in that position, if I was further up the field and I missed a tackle or slipped, there would obviously have been someone behind me.”
The expected standards and expectations are obvious, the portents for everyone else dispiriting.
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