Friday 23 June 2017

Belief is key to Dubs' run

How has the Capital's 32-game steak survived? Rivals will test resolve but players keep the faith according to Coman Goggins

Dublin players line up before the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 3 match between Donegal and Dublin at Mac Cumhaill Park in Ballybofey last Sunday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin players line up before the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 3 match between Donegal and Dublin at Mac Cumhaill Park in Ballybofey last Sunday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Coman Goggins is certain of one thing: the preservation of Dublin's staggering unbeaten run is not "preached from the pulpit" by Jim Gavin.

In fact, the former Dublin All Star reckons it isn't even aired in the dressing-room.

And yet it's there, hanging in the ether, floating in the cranial subconscious ... how can it be any other way?

Especially when you have myriad media branches detailing every fresh landmark on a 32-match journey dating all the way back to March 1, 2015.

That was the day Gavin's crew last lost a league or championship fixture (the O'Byrne Cup, for compelling reasons, is airbrushed from this debate) and it happened against Kerry in Killarney.

Yesterday, you may have noticed, the back-to-back All-Ireland champions passed another milestone - the second anniversary of that defeat.

But does all of this equate to invincibility? The most recent form-graph - from the business end of last year's All-Ireland series and the opening three rounds of the Allianz Football League - suggests something else.

Fitness

Dublin are beatable but no one, just yet, has figured out how to finish the task. They are minus several mainstays; they aren't close to full fitness throttle either; thus we have the paradox of a seemingly vulnerable team that always finds a way to survive.

Mayo return to Croke Park this Saturday night (7.0), buoyed by back-to-back victories over Kerry and Roscommon and surely scenting some long-overdue Sky Blue blood.

Perhaps this could be the night it all ends. "It's going to fall at some point but, at the minute, there is just this subconscious belief that they will get a result," says Goggins.

The man who led Dublin to Leinster glory in 2002 concedes they "aren't firing as well at this stage" of the league compared to previous campaigns. Their later-than-usual return to collective training may partially explain that.

"I'd say what's carrying them is mileage in the legs, even though they're not as fit as they should be, and ingrained belief," he surmises.

You could argue that this belief has been carrying Dublin for even longer than the month just elapsed. In each of their last six games, they have trailed at some point.

Kerry led by five points halfway through last year's All-Ireland semi-final. Mayo scored the first two points in the drawn final, and it required two own goals to ensure Dublin led for most of that first half. In the replay, Mayo were one up after Lee Keegan's 18th minute goal and again, briefly, after half-time.

Even in this year's league opener, Cavan initially matched them blow for blow and led by a point after 20 minutes. Tyrone were five clear after an hour in Croke Park, while Donegal led by four after 40 minutes in Ballybofey last Sunday.

Statistics, of course, applied to suit a particular bias, can be used to prove any argument. One fan sees a 32-match unbeaten streak; another man spots that Dublin have drawn three of their last five games.

Belated sceptics will cite their recent dearth of goals in open play (Niall Scully's effort last Sunday ended a near six-game famine, if you exclude own goals and penalties) and their low scoring returns against Tyrone (0-10) and Donegal (1-8).

Yet the reality, on both days, is that weather conditions were attritional and rival blanket defences even more so.

Dublin/Mayo promises to be every bit as intense as those recent deadlocks with Tyrone and Donegal, but more open and high-scoring too.

Goggins is sure there won't be any big discussion about record-breaking runs as Dublin focus on getting a performance against Mayo.

Digging

"But I know from past experience with Ballinteer," he adds, "where we went through a couple of seasons unbeaten when coming up through the ranks (they reached Dublin's AFL Division 1 in 2003 having risen from Junior level)… subconsciously, even when everything is against you, you somehow find a way of digging it out. Plus you have this innate belief that you are not going to lose."

Even when it's staring you in the face.

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