Thursday 27 October 2016

Coman Goggins: Forget any romantic notions, Dublin will cruise into semi-finals

Paddy Holloway, Westmeath, in action against Dublin players, left to right, Rory O'Carroll, Cian O'Sullivan, and John Cooper
Paddy Holloway, Westmeath, in action against Dublin players, left to right, Rory O'Carroll, Cian O'Sullivan, and John Cooper

SINCE the advent of the qualifier system the August Bank Holiday weekend has become synonymous with the business end of the football calendar, where those who survived the shark-pool of back-door fixtures travel to Croke Park to test themselves against provincial champions.

Without question the success story of the qualifiers this year has been Pete McGrath's Fermanagh side who find themselves in the last eight for the first time since 2004, something that prompted former player and double All-Star winner Barry Owens to tweet after their victory over Westmeath that he'd "take a run like this over an All-Ireland 'B' any day".

It's hard to disagree with Owen's sentiments and his words probably echo those of most current inter-county footballers, and clearly shows the difficulty headquarters would have in introducing an 'A' and 'B' championship structure.

But as the Erne County face up to a Dublin side who have reached the quarter-final stage in every year since Fermanagh's last visit to the knock-out stages it is difficult to see how the wave of enthusiasm and momentum generated from the qualifiers can put a stop to group whose ambitions lie well beyond merely reaching a quarter-final.

That is not to disrespect or undervalue Fermanagh's achievements this summer.

In a county that has a smaller population than a full-house in Croke Park, their results are testament to the belief instilled in them by McGrath, and indeed by Peter Canavan before him, and is best represented by the fact that it has been their second half performances that has burned off the opposition in their last two qualifier games.

The scoring exploits of their inside forward line of Seán Quigley, who hit 0-14 against Antrim in round two of the qualifiers, and last weekend's star performer Tomás Corrigan who bagged 1-7 against Westmeath, that offer a credible threat to Dublin's full-back line, but I'm not convinced an average of 1-15 across their five championship games will be sufficient to outscore a Dublin forward line that has averaged 3-18 in just three games.


Despite the blanket that was thrown before them by Westmeath in the Leinster final, the Dubs still hit 2-13, although the wide count would have been a concern for Jim Gavin and his management team.

Dublin's failings last summer were exaggerated by the fact that they failed to convert two guilt-edged goal chances in the first half of their semi-final against Donegal. In both their All-Ireland winning years they showed a ruthlessness in front of goal that ultimately ensured Sam Maguire rested in the capital for 12 months.

Eleven goals in three championship matches indicates that this streak has returned, and the way in which Bernard Brogan's palmed effort was crafted against Westmeath in such a packed defence suggests that considerable work has been done from an offensive point of view to capitalise on goal opportunities when they arise.

Defensively, the Dubs haven't been truly tested, and while Quigley and Corrigan clearly know where the posts are, the repositioning of Cian O'Sullivan to centre-back has bolstered a defensive line that has sorely missed the influence of Ger Brennan whose reading of the game was probably under appreciated as Dublin's attacking flair took the plaudits.

I guess it's a bit like the old saying 'you don't know what you got til it's gone' as it is clear that the St Vincent's man was a key cog in Dublin's successes in 2011 and 2013.

A frustrating spell on the sidelines that ultimately led to him leaving the Dublin panel a couple of weeks ago certainly leaves a void, but I'd hope the break would serve its purpose and we will see him return to the Dublin jersey again next year.

As for this Sunday, like the rest of their games it's Dublin to lose. The patience they displayed against Westmeath shows that they are beginning to cope when a blanket defence is deployed, and if they have sharpened the radar over the last few weeks, the question is not so much who will win, but more a question of by how many.

The curtain-raiser serves up an interesting tussle as Kildare return to Croke Park on the back of some pretty high scoring contests to tackle the reigning All-Ireland champions Kerry.

The Lilies scored 2-24 against Longford followed up by a comprehensive 1-21 tally against a mentally beaten Cork to resurrect their season, when only a couple of months ago following a bad beating against Dublin, the promising influx of young players into the team looked to have backfired on manager Jason Ryan.

Brimming with confidence Kildare are well positioned to ask questions of Kerry's defensive unit, who despite their almost complete shut-out of Cork in the second-half of the Munster final still have some question marks over their ability to deal when teams attacking them at pace.

That said, I'm not so sure how adept Kildare are defensively either.

If Eamonn Fitzmaurice affords Colm Cooper a start then my gut rests with the craft and movement that the Kingdom offer in attack to see out a game that has the potential to be high-scoring, nail-biter.

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