Right, the countdown is now on in earnest for our meeting with Dublin on Saturday evening. It’s Round 3 of this year’s National League campaign and our Division One meeting with the Dubs takes place at Croke Park where throw-in is set for 7.30pm. The match is being broadcast live on RTÉ2 and Meath’s David Gough is the ref for it.
None of us need reminding about when we last beat Dublin at HQ nor do our memories need to be jogged about the two previous times this century that we’ve got the better of them in the Championship. The League, however, is a very different story from our perspective because we’ve very few victories to boast about over Dublin on their patch in the spring competition.
The most recent win we’ve recorded over them in the League at Croke Park was back in 1971, in the semi-final of the competition, a game we won by 1-9 to 0-8. Prior to that, we beat them way back in 1954, again in the semi-final, by 0-11 to 0-7, before going on to get the better of Carlow in the final. Going further back, we beat them in National League finals at Croke Park in 1941 and 1934.
In modern times, however, our record away against Dublin is an extremely poor one. Our emergence as a serious force in the game over the past decade – when we repeatedly put it up to Dublin in the Championship – did nothing to improve our stats against them in the League.
Let’s be honest here – most of our League showings against them in the past ten years (both home and away) have been cringeworthy. We threw away a very winnable match at Croke Park in March 2013, coughed up a two-goal lead at Croker late on in March 2014 (though at least we drew that one), got beaten out the gate at MacHale Park in 2015, lost narrowly in Castlebar in 2016, got thumped at Croke Park in 2017, got well beaten at MacHale Park in 2018, got thumped again at Croke Park in 2019 and got well beaten again at MacHale Park in 2020.
Malachy Clerkin noted on the podcast last week that, for Dublin, the League meeting with us in recent years was always a guaranteed two points in the bag for them. As that grim list above shows, frequently we failed even to show up in games against them.
That awful record has, then, to form part of the backdrop to Saturday evening’s meeting. On this occasion, we’re heading to HQ in high spirits, having garnered three points from our opening two games, while Dublin are rooted to the bottom of the table, with two defeats from two outings.
Let’s stall the ball there, though, and go back in time a bit to chart Dublin’s trajectory into our meeting on Saturday night.
The obvious place to pick up the story is from after the All-Ireland final of 2020 – in which, of course, they beat us to complete the six-in-a-row – when they were still top dogs, then eyeing seven straight Sam Maguire successes.
In retrospect, the Covidgate incident early in 2021 proved to be a decisive fork in the road for them last year. The brouhaha resulting from that was, by all accounts, the reason why Stephen Cluxton walked off the panel and his departure, combined with the failure to persuade Paul Mannion to rejoin the squad for last year, weakened the champions’ hand for 2021.
They didn’t, though, look a whole load weaker in the League, as they ended up sharing the Division One title with Kerry, with whom they’d been bracketed in Division One South, along with Galway and Roscommon.
Dublin had nine points to spare over the Rossies at Dr Hyde Park in the opening round of last year’s League and they then drew a mad-cap match with Kerry on a scoreline of 4-9 to 1-18. Banished from Croke Park because of the Covid training infraction, that game was played instead at Semple Stadium.
Tuam was the venue for their game with Galway, which was a close enough contest but which one Dublin eventually won with four points to spare. Kerry topped the Division One South table on points difference and so Dublin were paired with the North table-toppers Donegal in the semi-final.
Dublin won that semi-final by 1-18 to 1-14 at Breffni Park. There was no time to play the final, though, and so it was awarded jointly to themselves and Kerry. By now, of course, all the chatter was about an All-Ireland final between these two.
The first real hint that all wasn’t well within Dessie Farrell’s squad was the Leinster quarter-final against Wexford. Dublin won that game by eight points but only after a painfully laboured performance.
Meath should have got closer to them than the six-point margin they eventually lost by and Kildare, showing a staggering absence of ambition, never really came out to play against them in the Leinster final. The Lilies got what they deserved and lost by eight as a result.
After we beat Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, the narrative shifted immediately to how they were over the hill and how the world and its spouse knew that this defeat was always coming. However, going into that match – not to mention for long stretches of it – Dublin’s demise looked anything but certain.
From our perspective it was, of course, a hugely enjoyable and massively satisfying win. But it wasn’t a result we ever really got to savour properly, overshadowed as it was by the crushing disappointment of the subsequent final loss to Tyrone.
The question for Dublin going into 2022 was how they’d react to being mere mortals again. The tuned-in manner they started the year, winning the pre-season O’Byrne Cup with some ease, seemed to show that, once again, they meant business.
But then came their undoing against Armagh in the League’s opening round. That was as bad a performance as Dublin had put on at Croke Park since the day of the startled earwigs in 2009 and the 2-15 to 1-13 loss they suffered against the Orchard County was one that sent shockwaves around the world of Gaelic football.
Kerry in Tralee wouldn’t have been their first choice of where to go next but that’s where they had to go the weekend before last. This time the beating they got was far worse, though the tide only turned in that game after Conor Lane’s bizarre decision to disallow a goal for Dublin in circumstances that were far from clear from a playing rules point of view. Once Kerry got stuck into them after that, they began to take a right pounding and Dublin did well to limit the damage to a seven-point loss at the finish, as they went down by 1-15 to 0-11.
Those two defeats mean they’ll take the field back at Croke Park on Saturday night as the only team without a point on the board in Division One this year. Their great record against us in the League would suggest strongly that this is a situation that won’t remain that way by full-time on Saturday, while we’ll see the game as a great chance to inflict further damage on a wounded adversary, while at the same time taking a further important step towards our Division One safety.
It has, on the face of it, the makings of a real humdinger. Well, of course it has – it’s Dublin versus Mayo under the lights at Croke Park in as match that, even though it’s only the League, will have real bite.
But which way will it go? Will Dublin maintain their long winning run against us in the League or can we, for the first time in over fifty years, beat them in this competition on their own patch? Let’s end with a vote on that very question.
How will we do against Dublin?
- Win (53%, 494 Votes)
- Lose (34%, 319 Votes)
- Draw (12%, 112 Votes)
Total Voters: 925