FORMER Dublin coach Mickey Whelan believes the county is within a whisker of winning their first All-Ireland since 1995 and requires just the roll of the dice to end the 13-year wait.
Leinster champions three years in a row, Dublin have found their ambitions stunted at the All-Ireland semi-final stage this past two seasons and time is running out for some of their older players.
“I think that Dublin are only a flip away from an All-Ireland,” said Whelan who took St Vincent’s to an All-Ireland title of their own last March. They’ve missed out by a point or two on two or three occasions in the last six or seven years.
“This team now is a very mature team and they get a lot more scores from possession than they used to. They’re more efficient. If they get the break at all ... if they had got the break last year then who knows? You need a break in an All-Ireland.”
Whelan was unfortunate to manage the county in the wake of that 1995 triumph when the team was well beyond its sell-by-date but he believes the current squad has only now come to its peak.
Like many observers, he seems to believe the full-back line is the chief area of concern while the loss of Vincent’s own centre-back Ger Brennan reduces the options in the second line of defence.
However, it is further up the field where Whelan sees most reason for optimism.
“They now have the best selection they have had since they last won the All-Ireland. Forward-wise they could bring in three forwards and there wouldn’t be any weakness coming in.
“They’ve never had nine or 10 forwards that they could pick from of equal ability. Now it’s another year and some of our fellas like Mossy (Tomas Quinn) and Dermot (Connolly) have All-Ireland medals behind them.
“It all helps to build your confidence and your belief and you learn a bit from every game you play at the top level.”
How much Paul Caffrey could take out of Dublin’s opener against a Louth team that imploded soon after the break is difficult to say. Dublin’s first-half display that day was not the type to have supporters rushing out to the bookies to place bets on their September bid.
“They scored very highly. I know it took them a while to get going but they got a lot of scores and won the game very easily in the end. It’s not the time to be at your best, is it?
“The management have won three Leinsters so they probably feel they want to do something slightly different. Their goals are a little bit beyond that. I think the team now is probably focusing on getting through to the next phase of it.”
Momentum and pride will ensure that Dublin will be doing all they can to make it a fourth provincial title in a row and the next obstacle in the way of that is a Westmeath team which took their scalp in the Division Two league final in Navan.
That was the first time that the midland county’s blanket defence tactic impinged on the national consciousness but they have re-affirmed its usefulness twice since against Longford and Offaly.
How they fare on the broader swathe of grass in Croke Park is another thing but they will nonetheless prove to be a gritty opponent for the Dubs after their cakewalk against Louth.
“Westmeath aren’t going to be easy to break down. This might be a tight game, it might be. Westmeath under Tomas O Flatharta have done a superb job and are going to be very difficult to beat. They’ll be a great test for Dublin.”
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