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Sunday 22 October 2017

Dubs' 1/12 price at odds with history

LATE on Sunday, tight against deadline, I clicked into a bookmaker's website to check on Dublin's revised odds for the Leinster senior football championship. It read 1/20 ... or was I hallucinating?

Yesterday I double-checked the same website to discover Dublin at a "more generous" 1/12 to retain the Delaney Cup outright. This is not to say I was dreaming on Sunday night, for various other prices had been updated and Dublin's All-Ireland odds had actually hardened, from 8/11 to 4/6.

Yesterday, for the record, was the last day of June. Dublin must win four more matches on the spin to retain Sam via the front door. And they're four-to-six!

But it's those Leinster odds that truly take the breath away. Remember, they are not playing some unheralded wannabe who sneaked into the final courtesy of a favourable draw and/or a few fortuitous breaks.

They are playing Meath.

Footballers from the Royal county, once given a solid structure and coherent management, tend to quickly evolve into a pretty serious team.

True, they've been through the mill in the inevitably traumatic transition that followed Sean Boylan's departure after 23 years at the helm, and some of the on-field and off-field crises that sporadically erupted since 2005 have bordered on the laughable ... unless, of course, you were a weeping Meathie.

CUTTING EDGE

But they have still retained the capacity to, if not come from nowhere, then come with an ultra-competitive cutting edge when faced by the Dubs.

Much has been made of Dublin's recent domination of the Leinster SFC, something that has now reached historic proportions with the annexation of eight of the last nine titles. As the odds mentioned above underline, most sane judges expect that to read nine from ten by close of play on July 20.

The only county to break this Sky Blue hegemony was Meath, in 2010, and even that Leinster success will forever carry an asterisk alongside the names Joe Sheridan and Martin Sludden.

In other words, Dublin have been well-nigh unstoppable on the eastern battlefront. But here's the thing: in the post-Boylan years they have faced Meath six times. The results breakdown? Four Dublin wins, one draw and one Meath victory. And the cumulative score? Dublin 5-82, Meath 6-74. Just a five-point differential.

Now, you might explain away that meagre margin on the premise that Meath's 11-point victory in 2010 skews the figures to a significant degree ... but you could equally counter that Dublin's seven-point margin in last year's Leinster final doesn't tell the full picture of a gripping contest which saw Meath actually hold a two-point interval lead.

The fact remains that, even in this era of enviable opulence, Dublin rarely if ever blow away the Royals. In 2007 they were pushed to a replay, duly won by four; they only had two points to spare in '09; suffered that 5-9 to 0-13 humiliation the following year; and held on for a three-point win in the 2012 final, caught napping in the home straight having cruised into a ten-point lead.

HISTORY

Why is this the case? We suspect history plays its part: Meath footballers haven't been brought up to live in dread of that Sky Blue jersey.

Allied to that innate confidence is the abrasive quality of their tackling (something alluded to by losing Kildare boss Jason Ryan on Sunday), an ability to turn defence into attack in double-quick time and a knack for producing, well, knacky forwards.

Last Sunday's 2-16 to 0-17 victory over a (defensively chaotic, truth be told) Kildare actually had echoes of that five-goal obliteration of the Dubs in 2010 ... the only difference being that Meath took all their goal chances then, and not last weekend.

Will they have enough quality, athleticism and resilience to live with Jim Gavin's Dublin juggernaut? Doubtful ... but in a one-off contest and given the recent history just outlined, their 11/2 odds sound a lot more tempting than Dublin's 1/12.

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