Rory O'Carroll: 'Dublin for Sam' in May is all just talk ...
O'Carroll believes the Blues must learn from last summer and won't take anyone - Division Four rivals included - for granted
WELCOME to the bubble that is the Dublin football dressing-room. On the outside, you will hear endless chatter about their status as All-Ireland favourites; three-in-a-row league champions; perennial oligarchs of their Leinster domain.
You will hear that Jim Gavin's marauding army won't face a solitary Division One rival until the All-Ireland quarter-finals. But what if they don't make it to the last-eight? Hah! Not even up for debate.
Back inside the bubble, though, all of this is dismissed as mere "talk". You can't influence it but you can ignore it.
"There is lots of different talk, every single year about every single game," says Rory O'Carroll.
"Dublin went 16 years without winning an All-Ireland and there was still that same sort of talk.
"If you look at history over the last 20 years, Dublin have won three All-Irelands and the likes of Kerry have won more than double that (seven, to be precise).
"I tend to never take any notice of those sort of comments … Jim is very focussed on the opposition. He wouldn't let our standards slip. We wouldn't prepare for any game differently than another."
So it is with Sunday's Leinster SFC opener against Longford in Croke Park (4.0). O'Carroll's own preparation, over the past month, has been hamstrung by - exactly that, a hamstring tear suffered in the league final against Cork.
It's not ideal but, then, there is no time for either self-pity or resting on laurels when you're part of this Dublin panel. O'Carroll has been a pivotal No 3 mainstay for the past half-decade and had just hit a rich vein of form (at home to Derry and against Monaghan up in Clones) before he missed the NFL semi-final, also against Monaghan, with one hamstring injury and then came off in the second quarter against Cork, with a fresh niggle. Looking ahead to Sunday, he is wary of those outside perceptions when Division One kingpins square off against a team just freshly promoted from the league's bottom tier.
"For us in many ways, to people looking in, it's a lose-lose. We're expected to win and if we lose, we're branded as losing to a Division Four team. It's going to be tough either way," the Kilmacud defender concludes.
"Especially playing a team from Division Four, they're definitely going to up their game.
"The competition for places would be a huge driving force. If you perform poorly in one game, that's going to seriously reduce your chances of starting the next game. And that's going to follow on and on for the season. Nobody wants to put themselves in that position."
Nor do Dublin want to put themselves in the same position as last August - gung-ho trailblazers suddenly exposed by Donegal's 'suck them in and hit them on the counter' system patented by Jim McGuinness.
Asked to sum up the main lessons from last year's championship, O'Carroll cuts to the chase. "Just being more defensively-minded," he replies.
"We were exposed hugely and we did pay for that. We might have been a bit naive going all-out attack which felt great, it was really enjoyable to go out and do that. Now we just have to embrace the challenge of beating the blanket defence."
It's not that Dublin's approach has totally flipped the other way; more a case of cautious moderation.
"When you lose, you tend to analyse it more. When we looked at it and analysed it, those were the incidents that came up. If you were to say 'How could we stop that in the future?' that's where those changes came in," O'Carroll outlines.
"I wouldn't say it's radically different. There have been times I've been blowing my lungs out trying to get lads back to cover … it has changed slightly with where the full-back line has that bit more cover. It's really a work in progress. We struggled around it in the league."
That's the curious thing: Dublin retained their spring crown and yet O'Carroll recalls: "It was a bit strange because after the first few games we just said 'Here, let's just focus on not getting relegated and try and stay in Division One, and then the best-case scenario is we get to a semi-final …'
"When we did get those wins against Mayo and Derry, that was the pressure off. We knew mathematically we couldn't be relegated."
Speaking of Derry, does he expect to face something similar this summer to the extreme version of blanket defence that they brought to Croker at the end of March?
"Yeah, definitely," O'Carroll concurs. "Absolutely - in at least one or two games. But that is something we have been working on in training and we are actually really looking forward to that, in a lot of ways. If they don't, it's a lot of training time wasted, I suppose …"