I’m still struggling with this game-a-week business, not least when last Saturday evening we had, to all intents and purposes, an All-Ireland quarter-final knockout tie against the Ulster champions. Now, just a week later, we’re faced with an All-Ireland semi-final. Against The Greatest Time Of All Time to boot.
Which means it’s time to run the rule over Dublin and have a quick gallop through what they’e been up to since we last locked horns seriously with them in the Championship. That, I don’t need to remind you, was in the 2017 All-Ireland final.
Since then, Dublin have added another League title and another All-Ireland crown – their fourth in a row – to an already stellar haul of national honours this decade. The only sign of a stumble, if you could even call it that, came this spring when they failed, for the first time in the Jim Gavin era, to make it as far as the League final.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start this review of Dublin’s recent record instead by quickly looking at the 2018 League campaign and then work forward from there.
Dublin had a very positive runs of matches in the 2018 NFL, reeling off five straight wins to begin – over Kildare at home, Tyrone away, Donegal at home, ourselves in Castlebar and Kerry at home – before Galway held them to a draw in Salthill. Monaghan then grabbed a surprise win over them at Croke Park but by then they were already in the final. Once there they beat Galway to land their 13th League title.
Last year’s Championship proved a total cakewalk for them. Not just Leinster – which really needs to be disbanded at this stage, such is the complete lack of competition Dublin now face there – but right from start to finish.
In retrospect, the failure of both ourselves and Kerry to advance to the point where we’d have met them in last year’s Championship made it all the easier for Dublin to complete the four-in-a-row. But that was our failing. All any team has to do to win out is to beat what’s in front of them and Dublin did that, with enormous ease.
In Leinster, they beat Wicklow (by a margin of 23 points), Longford (19 points) and Laois (18 points), before seeing off slightly stronger opposition in the Super 8s, where they beat Donegal (by 5), Tyrone (by 3) and Roscommon (by 14). Wins over Galway (+9) in the semi-final and Tyrone (+6) in the final completed what was an extremely facile All-Ireland title success.
This spring saw Dublin encounter defeats more often than they’ve been used to in the Gavin era. This trend began in Round 1 against Monaghan up in Clones, following which they beat Galway at Croke Park before losing narrowly to Kerry down in Tralee. They beat us easily back at HQ in Round 4 and then beat Roscommon away in Round 5 to get them back in contention for a place in the final. A home defeat to Tyrone in Round 6, however, ended those hopes, which meant their final round win away to Cavan was of no real consequence.
Then it was onto Leinster and the now annual lambs to the slaughter there. This year the roll-call read Louth in the quarters (+22 points), Kildare in the semis (+14) and Meath in the final (+16). What great fun the Leinster Championship is.
The games that mattered in the Super 8s were no better. Dublin had their two home games first and the wins secured there meant they had their place in the semi-final locked down before they – with a small minority of their supporters in tow – were obliged to hit the road.
Cork gave them a decent rattle in Phase 1 with their innocent, let’s-play-some-football approach, which kept the Rebels in the hunt until 15 minutes or so to go. Then Dublin floored the pedal and ended up winning by 13 points, on a scoreline of 5-18 to 1-17.
Roscommon then pitched up at Dublin’s patch for the ‘neutral’ Croke Park game and shipped an unmerciful 18-point whipping, the Connacht champions going under by 2-26 to 0-14. With Tyrone also winning their opening two games, this meant that last Sunday’s Phase 3 match between them was reduced, in effect, to a challenge match between two largely B teams.
Dublin won that too, triumphing in what some have dubbed here as the The Coma in Omagh, by 1-16 to 0-13. The result meant that Dublin topped their Super 8s group, sending them on a direct collision course with us, the runners-up in Group 1.
So the task facing us on Saturday is to take on a team that this summer has enjoyed an average winning margin across the six Championship games they’ve played of just under 15 points. A team that hasn’t lost at all in the Championship in almost five full years.
Since that loss to Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2014 – that was the day after our traumatic loss to Kerry in Limerick, so that tells you how far back it was – Dublin have played in 34 Championship matches. They’ve won 32 of those and drawn the other two.
Both those draws were, of course, against us, which, I guess, underlines our claim that we’re the only team to put up any kind of challenge to them in the last five years. Since we played out our most recent stalemate against them, however, in the 2016 All-Ireland final, they’ve won 20 Championship matches on the spin, the bulk of them by double-digit margins.
While we’re confident we’ve the ability to put it up to Dublin again on Saturday, the bookies are taking a far more jaundiced view of our prospects. They’ve installed Dublin as unbackable 1/5 favourites to win – we’re on offer at 9/2 – with the handicap set at -5.
Those are the numbers but let’s finish, as always, with the gut reaction. How do you think we’ll we do against the five-in-a-row chasing Dubs on Saturday evening?
How will we do against Dublin?
- Win (57%, 589 Votes)
- Lose (35%, 360 Votes)
- Draw (7%, 76 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,025