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Friday 9 December 2016

Blues a 'ferm' bet for a good reason

Dublin haven't always looked clever in breaking down blanket defences like Fermanagh's, but they can't and won't falter against Erne

Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny who has impressed this summer for Jim Gavin’s side
Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny who has impressed this summer for Jim Gavin’s side
Dublin’s Paul Flynn tries to shrug Westmeath’s Ger Egan during the Leinster SFC final

Forgive us our presumption for one moment. When Dublin dispatch Fermanagh by whatever winning margin tomorrow, they will have secured progression to a sixth consecutive All-Ireland semi-final. And they will have completed this mission by beating four teams who will either be playing in Division Three next spring, or who played in that division this year.

Longford, steamrolled by 27 points, were promoted from Division Four last April. At the same time Kildare (crushed by 19 points) and Westmeath (13-point losers) were being relegated from Division Two.

Fermanagh are the one exception: they'll be in Division Two next February by dint of promotion, proof of a more upward curve compared to any of Dublin's previous victims within Leinster.

Presumptious

But you still can't avoid heading to the same (presumptuous, we know!) conclusion ... that the favourites for Sam Maguire will have ambled into the last-four without facing a single county that can claim to be even within touching distance of the elite.

Not alone have they not played a top-flight rival; they haven't even met an established Division Two side boasting security of league tenure. Is this ideal preparation if, for example, Dublin end up facing Mayo at the end of this month? Of course not. Yet there's nothing Jim Gavin, his backroom team or players can do about it.

All they can do is keep on winning (double-digit margins being their modus operandi); keep on trying to make the correct choices in tight corners; keep on trusting that their physical prowess, renowned athleticism, blinding speed of movement and innate football talent will do the rest.

Against Westmeath, for sure, they didn't do the right thing often enough. True, even during an error-strewn first half, you never got a sense that victory was under threat ... but the manner in which they struggled against a blanket defence just two weeks in the making is bound to have alerted all of their chief rivals for Sam.

This was all-new tactical terrain for Westmeath, and yet they limited Dublin to a half-time lead of just 0-8 to 0-4 while forcing numerous errors from vaunted rivals who occasionally appeared flummoxed by the masses of maroon guarding Darren Quinn's goal.

Watching on, you couldn't help but recall some of Dublin's earlier struggles against the blanket (think of Tyrone and Derry last March) while wondering aloud what might happen if/when they run into a Donegal or a Monaghan or even those arch-pragmatists from Kerry, later in the season.

To its credit, a team that had blazed a trail of destruction through the earlier Leinster rounds eventually figured a way through the Westmeath labyrinth - primarily through that double-whammy goal salvo on the 40-minute mark.

Damage-limitation

Thereafter, patience was the byword: Dublin had the Delaney Cup under lock and key so could afford to play a game of keep ball, even as Westmeath persisted with their damage-limitation tactics.

That said, areas of concern remained: Dublin added another nine second half wides, bringing their tally to a far-from-sweet 16, while three of their six starting forwards will have left Croke Park that evening with anxious thoughts about their individual form and/or place on the team.

We're talking about Paul Flynn (who has rarely been so scattergun), Dean Rock (who cannot rely on just deadball acumen if he wants to remain an ever-present this season) and Kevin McManamon. None of this trio scored from play against Westmeath. Both McManamon and Rock were replaced. Flynn wasn't, and it's hard to conceive that his place would be under threat - yet.

Still, food for thought.

The good news for Dublin is that Diarmuid Connolly and Ciarán Kilkenny maintained the eye-catching form of early-summer in the half-forward line while Bernard Brogan, notwithstanding a less-than-stellar first half, still came up with the scoring goods thereafter, landing 1-1.

Now for Fermanagh ...

We hope and trust the Ernesiders forgive us our opening par insult. Not alone are they here on merit, but it's entirely conceivable that they could give Dublin their 'toughest' match of the summer do date - the quotation marks added for one obvious reason, ie the lack of competition thus far.

Here are some reasons for mild Fermanagh optimism ...

(1) They have genuine momentum (albeit so too did Westmeath).

(2) They are much more practised than Westmeath in how to play a 'structured defensive system', as the euphemism now goes, so presumably they should be more adept at linking play between backs and forwards.

(3) When they do counter, they aren't solely reliant on one score-getter ... when Seán Quigley endured one of those harum-scarum shooting days against Westmeath, Tomás Corrigan brilliantly stepped into the breach, both from frees and open play.

(4) In Pete McGrath they have a manager who has been around the All-Ireland block ... no harm when the team itself is so callow at this elite level.

Remember, this is only the third time Fermanagh have qualified for the last-eight stage; it hasn't happened since 2004. Ryan McCluskey apart, McGrath's men have never previously played in front of a 50,000-plus crowd, a majority of whom will exult in every score they concede.

As for how many they concede? That's all up to Dublin.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dublin 1/100, Draw 40/1, Fermanagh 16/1

VERDICT: Dublin

All-ireland quarter-final: Dublin v Fermanagh, Tomorrow 4.0, live RTÉ 2

 

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