Roche's Point: Dublin for Sam - cup half full or half empty?
WE'LL start with a brief history lesson that can prove ... well, that all depends on how you judge the significance of July form graphs.
Dublin's most compelling performance of last summer was, by a country mile, their Leinster SFC final against Meath. Yes, the Royals were ragged beyond belief; but even that caveat couldn't disguise the fluency and, for the most part, ruthlessness of their tormentors in blue.
Looking on, it was easy to convince yourself that here were holders ready to buck the trend.
Six weeks later, their back-to-back ambitions were KO'd by a counter-attacking masterclass. Donegal were clinging to the ropes after the initial barrage; but they rolled with the punches and then cruelly exposed the fact that Dublin - whether guilty of hubris or naivety or a lack of basic defensive smarts - had let their guard down hopelessly.
Moving swiftly along to last Sunday, if Dublin do recapture Sam this season, the Leinster final won't be recalled as their standout display on the road back to redemption.
In several facets, Dublin didn't resemble champions-in-the-making. A garish wide count of 16 requires little further explanation, yet some of their dubious decision-making and faulty execution of the basics during a scratchy first half were every bit as worrying.
But just how worrying? Here's the thing: while it's eminently possible to surrender your All-Ireland (pipe)dreams in mid-July - just ask Meath, Armagh, Roscommon, or the hurlers of Clare and Limerick - it's statistically impossible to win one then.
The current Dublin team, and some of its recent forebears, know this better than most. Remember how Pillar's storm-troopers steamrolled poor, hapless Wexford in the 2008 Leinster final? Fat lot of good that did them against Tyrone. Or how, a year later, Pat Gilroy's crew won a ding-dong collision with Kildare, prompting a fresh wave of 'Dubs for Sam' hysteria ... until they mutated into startled earwigs against Kerry.
In a nutshell, peaking in July is not a prerequisite to September coronation. Quite often (although Dublin have little experience of this) you can even afford to lose in July if that offers a wake-up call for a team with All-Ireland potential.
Dublin didn't lose on Sunday; they never looked like doing so. Moreover, to win by 13 points while failing to ignite tells you as much about the rest of Leinster as it does about Dublin.
And yet Westmeath may well have done Dublin a huge service by making life, well, so uncomfortable at times. Remember, from the league gone by, Jim Gavin has swallowed extreme doses of blanket defence medicine prescribed by Tyrone and then Derry; now he has sampled something similar from an unlikely source, a Leinster wannabe rival.
Each time, Dublin passed the challenge (ie, they were never beaten) but not once with conviction. Rory Gallagher, to name-check just one rival boss, will have looked on, more than a little intrigued. After all, if a Westmeath team learning 'park the bus' on the hoof, so to speak, can frustrate Dublin for long periods, what about seasoned experts in the field such as Donegal?
The flip side: the more often Dublin face the blanket, the better they will become at learning the game of patience required to break it down.
So much for the tactical big picture. There are other individual issues that will cause Jim Gavin a few headaches between now and the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Paul Flynn is a four in-a-row All Star, but he won't make it five on the spin if he has any more repeats of last Sunday, when the Fingallians man was - by previously precise standards - 'all over the shop'.
We can't believe Flynn's position would be under threat, but he needs to recover his old consistency as knockout looms. Meanwhile, Dean Rock's sporadic contribution from open play places a question mark over his starting berth, no matter how metronomic his free-taking, while Kevin McManamon is another who needs to up his game. That's 50pc of Dublin's attack; just as well they aren't shy of options.
So much for the glass half-empty. The half-full version? They won by 13 points. And they conquered Leinster by 59. Not half-bad for a team which can be even better.
O'Dowd worth another term but go easy on the excuses
ON balance, this column believes Mick O'Dowd deserves another chance and another term.
He has restored a semblance of order to a Meath senior set-up previously beset by chaos. They have attained a degree of league consistency, edging closer to one of O'Dowd's stated aims - becoming a top-eight team. The message from captain Donal Keogan is that the players want him to stay. But?
Based on the ultimate summer arbiter, Meath's form graph has fallen steeply from the 2013 high of a battling Leinster final defeat to Dublin - when they led at half-time but lost by seven.
Last year's Leinster final implosion to the same foe, and especially this year's collapse to Westmeath, have seriously weakened O'Dowd's grip.
The injury-blighted Conor Gillespie has been a big loss, but to talk up the significance of one individual's absence reads like an embattled manager trying too hard to explain. And when you're explaining, you're losing.