Monday 24 October 2016

Still chasing greatness

'People are codding themselves if they think this team is going to fall away'

Kevin McManamon celebrates after scoring Dublin’s second goal during the Leinster SFC final against Westmeath at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Kevin McManamon celebrates after scoring Dublin’s second goal during the Leinster SFC final against Westmeath at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Once upon a time, Dublin used celebrate Leinster titles like they were moon landings.

Now, they're almost contrived in emphasising the importance of these wins, as though they're trying to convince people of it's worth.

"Each and every one means a great deal, I wouldn't put my body through what I do year after year if it didn't mean that much to me," said Stephen Cluxton afterwards.

Yet Cluxton is precisely the person to make such an appraisal.

Yesterday was his 12th Leinster medal, taking him one clear of his former co record-holder for football: Alan Brogan.

For context, Henry Shefflin has 13.

"I don't count them…I was told during the week that it was 12," he explained.

"How significant that is, again, you just can't focus on medals, you can't focus on winning, you've got to focus on the process of getting yourself right for the game and seeing the 70/80 minutes through.

"That's really all we can do as players.

"We don't celebrate a lotto win until you see all the numbers coming out, that's just the way you have to play it."

Still, context is everything.

By the time the ball was thrown in yesterday in the Leinster final, every other team in the province was out of the All-Ireland football championship.

Ergo, the minimum number of teams that could have remained in Championship was two.

Not the sign of a province teeming with credible pretenders.

So Dublin, the League, All-Ireland, all-singing, all-dancing Champions took on a side who will play their spring football in Division 4 next year, even if that's probably not a true representation of Westmeath's qualities as a team.


Dublin went and won by 15 points which - again, just for context - was almost exactly their average winning margin in the province in 12 games under Gavin - 14.75

A result that makes it 25 League and Championship matches unbeaten, stretching back to a narky League match in Killarney last March.

"It means a lot to the group and we're just happy at this particular moment with that performance and we'll certainly enjoy the moment," reckoned Gavin, who added that the run was "testament to the structures put in place" in Dublin.

Still, Westmeath gave it a good rattle for a half but their manager, Tom Cribbin admitted his team "probably needed to have a second game plan for the second half. Because that's what you need.

"You need an element of surprise," he went on.

"You have to come with some different questions because when a manager looks and he has to make changes and counteract what's being thrown at him, it's very difficult to run out and tell one or two players on the pitch and make it happen.

"You need to get them into a dressing-room, sit them down, show them what's happening and show them the counter-attacking plan.

"At that stage, we nearly needed to go zonal, the way they were pulling us.

"But it's very difficult to get that message out from the sideline once the game starts. So he got the element of surprise in the second half."

Gavin did that by replacing a defender, Eric Lowndes, with a forward, Paddy Andrews.

The upshot was that Dublin outscored Westmeath by 0-10 to 0-1 in the first 20 minutes of the half, having struggled for any fluency in the first period.

Typically, Gavin talked around this move, declining to indulge in specifics though it was just the latest example of him, his management team and the players reacting and correcting mid-game.

"When you meet a team that set up as defensive as Westmeath did, it poses various challenges," he explained, generalising the issue.

"We're just trying to our best for the players by making those tactical decisions.

"Some work, some don't, but we're all trying to do the right thing."

So it's 11 Leinster titles in 12 years for Dublin and at the more shriekish end of the analysis spectrum, that amounts to Armageddon for the rest of football.

Good work

The other way of looking at it is that this Dublin team - like everything - shall pass.

"No. No way," Cribbin insisted.

"They're doing too much good work at underage. You have to put structures in place.

"They'll only get better, the rest are going to have to get up to them. They're not going to come back.

"People are codding themselves if they think this team is going to fall away in a year or two or three. They're codding themselves.

"You have to bring them up winning at under-age and carry it the whole way through and have a panel big enough developed.

'But Dublin won't come back," Cribbin added.

"They'll only get better."

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