The Championship isn’t over a week and already the debate has begun about Dublin dominance next season and how the football landscape will look in the coming years.
The easy thing the week after crowning champions is anointing them as the long-term force while still enamoured with their championship winning display.
Kilkenny may have filled this role in hurling but football has yet to see such a team.
Yes Dublin have just claimed their third title in the last five years but the fact we are approaching a decade since any team retained the All-Ireland football championship highlights the difficulty of the task.
This time last year Kerry went home with minor and senior honours. On Sunday they retained the minor title but fell short of keeping Sam Maguire in the Kingdom for another 12 months.
One thing Kerry and Dublin have in common is they are both in healthy positions in terms of their underage structures — testament to the work and strategies implemented by both county boards. In both counties there is an emphasis on former players getting involved with underage teams. In Dublin you have the likes of Jason Sherlock, Ciarán Whelan, Paul Casey, and Paul Griffin all with development squads, while it was heartening to see Declan O’Sullivan playing a key role in the Kerry minor backroom team, under a year since he retired. The big challenge with successful underage teams is how many can transition to be as effective at senior level.
Jim Gavin won a number of U21 All-Ireland titles with many of his current squad so has a knowledge that allows him integrate talented youngsters into the top flight while Éamonn Fitzmaurice may have to be more patient with these minors and give them their time at U21 level first.
Another obvious factor on the sustained success of a squad will be the turnover of players at the end of a year. The back end of most squads — guys numbered 24-34 — will often interchange depending on who shows well in club championship but retirements from the group above them is a different scenario. There are already questions about a number of the Kerry team: Donaghy, Galvin, Cooper, Ó Sé, and O’Mahony will give some thought to whether the appetite to go again is there. In some cases it will be determined by whether the body will hold up for another year.
With Dublin the only players that may ask themselves the retirement question will likely be Denis Bastick, Alan Brogan, and Stephen Cluxton. Bastick and Brogan are similar in that they have key leadership roles in the Dublin team yet are rarely used for longer than 45 minutes per game. By holding the middle and being the sitting midfielder, Bastick was an ideal foil for Brian Fenton and also allowed Cian O’Sullivan sit deeper at centre-back to solidify the Dublin defence. Brogan was limited to second-half substitute appearances but reliably chipped in with crucial plays and big scores. Physically I think both players could do similar roles again next year. The question will be whether they can commit to what’s required.
The biggest question mark surrounds Stephen Cluxton’s future. He will be 34 next year and while I’ve no doubt he has another couple of years left at this level, I expect he will give thought to his position over the winter months.
We know Cluxton has changed the expectation of goalkeeping in GAA. Last week in Croke Park, you could argue the atmosphere in the stadium reached its highest point each time he took a kick-out during the opening stages. So much of the build-up centred on how Kerry would push up and force Cluxton to kick long but he still retained the self-confidence and composure to stick to his plan and look for short options, even after a few went awry. This confidence spread through his team and was part of the reason Dublin retained such control of the game.
Whenever Cluxton does step aside will leave an uncertainty no matter who fills the spot. The comfort he has built with his defenders, his variety of kick-outs, and his leadership would all be major losses.
As it stands the primary option to succeed him would be current sub goalie Michael Savage, a club mate of mine. Michael is a different goalkeeper to Cluxton but would have the temperament and quality required to be an excellent custodian at that level. Shane Supple from St Brigid’s is another who would likely be considered but whoever gets the opportunity will have huge boots to fill. With another championship in the books, Dublin and Kerry both have questions to answer this off-season but the long-term building blocks for success are in place and you get the feeling we’ll be watching these teams do battle again and again in the coming years.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved