It will forever be known as the game that led Jarlath Burns to declare the death of football, but Rory O’Carroll fully expects Dublin to be faced with the same defensive dilemmas this summer as that employed by Derry at the end of March.
Jim Gavin’s side won well in the end that evening, lest we forget. The final margin was four points but the statistic of note was the fact that only a dozen had been scored in total after a game of what could be described as defensive chicken. The championship, as it always does, brings with it hopes of finer fare on the back of blue skies and harder pitches, but Dublin’s full-back is bracing himself for the likelihood of opponents again parking the bus at some point during the campaign to a degree even beyond the modern norm.
“Yeah. Absolutely,” says O’Carroll. “In at least one or two games, but that is something we have been working on in training and we are actually really looking forward to that in a lot of ways. We will be expecting it at some stage.”
Dublin showed that night against Derry that they were ready to adapt to the less flamboyant side of football. The manner of their defeat to Donegal in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final had demonstrated the need for flexibility.
Various defensive systems have been trialled this last five months as a result and different players bolted into place for stretches of the league, but O’Carroll denies the sum of the alterations amount to anything close to radical when summing up the lessons of 2014.
“Just being more defensively minded. We were exposed hugely and we did pay for that. We might have been a bit naive going all out attack, which felt great. It was really enjoyable to go out and do that. Now we just have to embrace the challenge of beating the blanket defence.”
For all their experimentation, Dublin still ended the league with a third straight Division One title. It was the first time the county had managed the feat and that spoke eloquently for the depth of talent available to Gavin.
But for all their talent reserves, O’Carroll is deemed to be one of those players who is close to irreplaceable at full-back and he spoke at an AIG event earlier this month about how another concussion would force him to contemplate premature retirement.
It is a rather more mundane hamstring injury picked up in the league final against Cork that threatens his participation in their Leinster Championship opener against Longford, however, and he has insisted he will take the long-term view if any doubts linger this week.
The lack of peril for Dublin in Leinster allows him that luxury. It will likely be August and the All-Ireland quarter-finals before Dublin meet another Division One side and they open their ledger this weekend at Croke Park — where else? with an appointment against Jack Sheedy’s Division Four Longford outfit.
“To people looking in it’s a lose-lose,” said the Kilmacud Crokes defender.
“We’re expected to win and if we lose we’re branded as losing to a Division Four team. It’s going to be tough either way. Especially playing a team from Division Four, they’re definitely going to up their game. The competition for places would be a huge driving force. If you perform poorly in one game that’s going to seriously reduce your chances of starting the next game. Nobody wants to put themselves in that position.”
Yet again, it seems as though Dublin’s toughest opponent within the provincial boundaries will be themselves.
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