Saturday 22 October 2016

Romance is dead in the land of the ruthless Dub

TO summarise the public pronouncements emanating from Tom Cribbin's Westmeath camp this week, it's a bit like Barack Obama meets Bressie: "Yes we can ... if literally everything falls our way."

The mood of everyone else? "Be scared. Be very scared!"

We've all long grown accustomed to Dublin's Leinster monopoly but we've never witnessed a build-up quite like this, where one leading bookmaker (Paddy Power) will quote you 1/500 if you fancy wagering a spare million on a Sky Blue victory.

Some of you (those who happen to be millionaires) will view this as a handy way to make an extra two grand. Others will rail against the flippant insult levelled at a team that has earned its provincial final berth on merit.


The rest of you will see it for what it is: barring a miracle, far bigger than the one proclaimed by Cribbin after Westmeath's remarkable Meath comeback, Dublin cannot lose this match. Even a miracle might not be enough for Westmeath.

Again, for the purposes of clarification, this is not meant as an insult. After the disaster of league relegation, the Midlanders have recovered to win three provincial matches on the spin for the first time since their solitary Leinster success in 2004.

They have done so with a prolific flourish, scoring 3-14 against Louth, 1-21 against Wexford and 3-19 against Meath for an average of 2-19.

Problem No 1: They now face a team with far more firepower - Dublin have amassed 4-25 against Longford and 5-18 against Kildare for an average of 4-23.

Problem No 2: The Dublin defence looks a lot more watertight than last year's vulnerable version - and infinitely more miserly than Westmeath's.

The other key stat is that, under Jim Gavin, Dublin have blitzed every Leinster wannabe bar Meath (in the 2013 decider) by a double-digit figure. Seven others have fallen by a minimum 11 points.

And the chasm appears to be widening: 16 used to be Dublin's margin of choice but this year it has extended to 27 and 19.

Cribbin spoke this week about a new defensive game-plan.

To ignore Dublin's multi-dimensional threat by relying on old-fashioned man-to-man principles would be foolish. But to turn plans on paper into the reality of a tactical triumph, in so little time, is stretching credulity.

Kieran Martin and John Heslin have been heroic for Westmeath, but Dublin possess players of their quality (and better) in most positions. The prosecution rests.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dub 1/100, Draw 25/1, Westmeath 16/1 VERDICT: Dublin

LEINSTER SFC FINAL: dublin v westmeath, Croke Pk, Tom 2.0 (live RTÉ2)

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