For all the talk of their deep pockets and bulging population, right now, Dublin keep coming up with all the right answers, and are the unquestionable brand leaders for all things Gaelic football.
Behind the scenes, they formulated a vision, and they operate their county committee with all the foresight and efficiency of a multinational company. Their ‘Blue Wave’ document set out their strategies aimed at affecting a positive change, and they are continuing to reap the fruit of that forward thinking today. They invested heavily in coaching while other counties continued to pour their money into bricks, stadiums and statues.
Those boots on the ground have ensured a golden generation of Dublin senior footballer who will march into Sunday’s showpiece as clear favourites to solidify their legacy as one of the very rare and special teams to win back-to-back All Irelands in the modern era.
But, once the ball is thrown up at 3.30pm on Sunday, it will matter little how many full-time coaches Dublin have roaming their schools and development squads compared to Mayo. Nor will it matter how many people were registered on the census in the capital compared to Castlebar or Ballina.
All that counts will be who has the most sustainable game-plan, and who will be more effective at imposing it on the opposition. For Dublin, and I know I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but it all still originates with Stephen Cluxton’s ability to restart the game so efficiently in under six seconds following a wide or a score. To that end, I’m still constantly amazed at the amount of people who analyse games and keep throwing out the same tired line about the need for the opposition to ‘push up’ on Dublin’s kick-out. If only it was just that easy…
Mayo will surely have studied the success that Kerry had in their 12-man kick-out defence, and will look to implement a similar scheme when the timing allows them. But don’t be fooled into thinking Cluxton and his targets out the field won’t have done their due diligence also, and will have a better emergency evacuation plan if the fire comes. He will have been disappointed with his 12 minutes of his erratic decision making and execution off the tee which led to Kerry’s purple patch before half-time in the semi-final.
Unfortunately for Mayo, he’ll be expecting their kick-out defence and will be better prepared for it.
For all their individual and collective talent, Dublin’s greatest attribute, in my opinion, is their ability to adapt and overcome whatever is thrown at them.
It looks like it has been ingrained in their mentality by now, fostered on the training pitch but hardened in championship battle.
They are comfortable enough in their own skin to shape-shift into whatever they need to be.
And they are capable enough to absorb the loss of two or three all-star defenders and keeping moving forward without skipping a beat. Never once making an excuse of their absence.
The previous decade of Dublin footballer always had the potential of retreating into their ‘startled earwigs’ shell.
They were capable of crumbling if you got on top of them early and lacked that collective character to dig themselves out of a tough spot — there seemed little resilience to respond to major adversity. But those days are long gone, and that’s what has transformed this group from good to great.
This Dublin team are filled with as much character and leadership as they are blessed with athleticism and skill, and though they may be tested further than they have all year by Mayo, that cocktail of talents and mental fortitude won’t be easily bested with history and legacy on the line.
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