Old brigade searching for formula to stop the Dubs

Kevin McManamon is congratulated by team-mate Bernard Brogan after scoring Dublin second goal in their Leinster SFC final rout of Meath. Picture: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

Dublin’s awesome rise is now a growing concern

Tommy Carr has managed Dublin, Cavan and Roscommon in his time. Westmeath minors have danced to his tune more recently, but his response when asked if he would do a senior job in Leinster right now was revealing.

It was a hypothetical query made by a friend rather than a solid offer from a chairman or secretary: a tributary off a conversation that started with a chat about last Sunday’s lopsided Leinster football final.

“I said, ‘why in the name of God would you go and do that?’ Everyone knows in their heart and soul that Dublin are going to dominate Leinster for at least the next five years. You are talking about catching them on a bad day in Cusack Park. Maybe.

“Why would you do it if you have been managing teams for the last 10 or 12 years? Maybe if you are starting off you might, but in a lot of counties you have to beg players to play. You have to understand their perspective; what’s in it for them? And don’t give me any of this ‘pride in the jersey’ stuff.”

Carr is among a growing collective to bang this drum before, but he believes that the dominance of the Dubs in Leinster — winning nine of the last 10 senior titles — has only magnified the warped values of a provincial system that has previously been ousted as rotten in Munster and Connacht.

Croke Park, he says, should be doing something about it rather than “bringing in bloody black cards”. He can speak about both sides of the divide, given his DNA as a Dublin player and manager and his residence in the midlands.

One anecdote made his case.

Carr spoke about Keith Barr’s St Brigid’s minors on Dublin’s northside and of their counterparts representing Mullingar Shamrocks. One club has 58 players on its panel, the other struggles to field a team, he says.

No prizes for guessing which is which.

Dublin can boast the holy trinity of talent, population and financial resources. No other county comes close.

Paul Bealin occupied many a Dublin dressing room with Carr and he shares similar views on this subject, while highlighting one or two more besides.

Bealin managed Westmeath’s seniors this year and believes the rest of the province needs help turning the tide. Taking Dublin out of Croke Park where they are so comfortable would be a start, he believes, but there is another side to this debate, too.

Dublin are reaching new heights, but the rest of Leinster is at something of a collective low. None of the province’s sides finished in the top two in any of the four leagues this spring, though Dublin finished fourth in Division One and ultimately won the final.

Kildare and Bealin’s own Westmeath were released into the second tier; Louth fell down a rung further; Longford and Offaly spiralled into the bottom section. Wexford and Laois were marooned in mid-table while Carlow were woeful in the basement region.

Even Meath were left unfulfilled by third spot in Division Two. Mick O’Dowd spoke last Sunday about the need for teams to be competing regularly with the country’s best in the spring, yet Dublin will be the only Leinster side in the top eight come February.

There’s similarly grave news to be tilled from summer. Dublin’s average winning margin in the province has grown every year since Meath hit them for five goals in 2010: from one of just four points per game the season after to 14.3 this year.

Their margin in the All-Ireland series has shown similar improvements in that timeframe and Bealin, like Carr, admits that the elongated subservience is having an effect on the morale in the other Leinster counties.

“There are two types of players and the psychological side of it is very important. Some thrive against the Dublins, others are, not scared, but have a different mindset. They don’t relish the chance to go up against the best.

“I personally thought Meath would have that mindset to put it up to Dublin, but they were just blown away in that first half. They have the talent to do that.

“You would still hope that Donegal and Kerry and Mayo would have a say in where the Championship goes, but they will have to catch Dublin on a bad day.”

Both men believe tactics are key and expressed surprise at the fact that teams last summer and this have insisted on going “toe-to-toe” with Jim Gavin’s side. Bafflement doesn’t adequately describe their reactions. When Bealin looks back to his own playing days, he can think of just Dessie Farrell (pre-knee problems, presumably) and Paul Curran as genuine speedsters. Now, 10 digits aren’t enough to keep a count of Dubs blessed with pace.

It is, he emphasises, Dublin’s most lethal weapon. That and their bench. Carr is of a similar view, but doesn’t necessarily see visions of a September procession for Dublin in the weak tea leaves of the Leinster Championship.

“I think everyone is getting a bit ahead of themselves. On their day, Dublin are the best team, but you could get them on one day where they are vulnerable. It depends then on the opposition. I think they will meet Donegal.

“I think that will happen, but I also think it will be death by a thousand cuts for Donegal. They can’t have their finger in every dyke. They will leak enough scores for Dublin to get ahead and they need to be within a goal towards the end to have a chance. The Mayos and the Kerrys will be there or thereabouts but they don’t have the players to contain them. Donegal’s style of play has been criticised, but if you go toe-to-toe with Dublin there is no way in the world you will beat them. Dublin are nearly forcing teams to set up defensively against them.”

The All-Ireland champions have, quite simply, yet to meet a side with the requisite mix of talent and tactics to trouble them. Whether they do this summer remains to be seen.


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