Friday 15 December 2017

Dubs have full tank

Former Dublin selector Nugent can't see Meath matching Sky Blues' fire

PAUL NUGENT is kept busy with the business, Kingsbury Furniture, in the Tallaght Retail Centre.

But when the working day is over, he doesn't spend too much time sitting on the couch.

On these summer evenings, he especially looks forward to heading out to watch a match.

"The intensity in Dublin club football has come back to what it was in the 1980s when it was an eight-team league," states Paul.

"No matter what team you meet in Division 1, the standard is so high. Even without the county players, the quality at the games is terrific, and I think that is transferring itself onto the county team.

"You have fellas used to playing at such an intensity that it it is a big help when they do get the county call.

"Dublin club football is so professional now. You have several clubs who could win the Dublin Senior Football Championship. And whoever wins it becomes the automatic favourites for the All-Ireland.

"There's so many good players in the league. I was at the Thomas Davis v Na Fianna game and young McHugh (Conor) put on a show again. He was superb. The crowds are coming back to club football.

"There's great viewing there. People realise the standard that's in the county when Dublin are the All-Ireland champions. The All-Ireland U21 title is also in the bag and the minors are through to the Leinster final.

"A couple of weeks ago I met Paul Curran at the Davis v St Maur's match. He was throwing his eye over Maur's because Ballymun were meeting them next.

"Maur's beat Ballymun in that game, which was a big surprise because the Mun are top of the league. But as Paul himself said after, there are no easy games anymore."

Leinster finals are never a picnic. Paul Nugent served as a selector with Pat Gilroy, and, as a Dublin footballer and mentor, he knows how demanding they can be.

He has seen improvements in the Royal County. "Mick O'Dowd is doing a good job with them. Things seemed to have settled in the county following the dissension that was there in the last few years.

"It looks to be a happy camp. The players have knuckled down. There's a new blend of footballers coming in, and they are putting in the work. Shane O'Rourke and Kevin Reilly coming back has strengthened them.

"They have some really good footballers. Stephen Bray and Graham Reilly are outstanding forwards.

"But I think Dublin have the match-ups for them. Jonny Cooper could mark Bray, and Jack McCaffrey or Nicky Devereux, or somebody quick, could mark Reilly."

Paul was a difficult man to contain when he wore the shirts of Thomas Davis and the Dubs.

He was on the famed Davis team that won three Dublin titles on the trot, 1989, '90 and '91, plus two Leinster crowns.

The Tallaght club were waiting for 100 years to land their first Dublin SFC crown. Then three came along together!

But things had been building. In 1986, Davis lost the county final to Scoil Ui Chonaill. It was the last Dublin SFC final to be played in Croke Park.

Aidan Shiells, the supremo of Dublin referees, had the whistle.

In 1988, Thomas Davis lost the Dublin semi-final to Parnell's, but the following season they at last took gold as they beat Ballymun Kickhams.

And they defeated Parnell's in the next two finals, becoming the first club to secure the three-in-a-row since the famed St Vincent's in 1977.

Only Na Fianna have completed the three-in-a-row since, and it's getting harder and harder to accomplish such a feat.

The Davis lads were fit. JJ Martin made sure of that. And they had some noble footballers, including the peerless Paul Curran.

Yet 1992 is not Paul Nugent's favourite year. "No, we lost the All-Ireland final to Donegal and the All-Ireland club final to Dr Crokes of Killarney.

"Losing two All-Ireland finals in the one year is very disappointing.

"But you have to look on the bright side. That was a marvellous Thomas Davis side and we had wonderful success.

"Against Dr Crokes, Gooch was their mascot. He was only 12. They obviously saw the potential!"

Davis's have a gem of a forward in Paul Hudson. He's on the Dublin squad. "In any other era, Paul would be on the side. It's just so hard to get into the team.

"Paul is a finisher. If he gets the supply, it's on the score-board. He's a little similar to Bernard Brogan in that he doesn't have to go round a defender.

"He can throw a little shimmy off either foot, and if he gets half a yard, he'll throw it over the bar."

Paul Nugent has seen the chapters change. "In our day, your weak foot was the one that got you out of trouble!

"Everybody now is so comfortable off both feet and both hands. The advent of the development squads has drilled that into them early and it is paying off.

"Jim Gavin and the management team are doing a great job. They are keeping it fresh. They are keeping the lads motivated.

"They don't take any risks. If the likes of Bernard (Brogan) is not 100 per cent, they don't play him. They wait till he's completely right.

"Having such strength in depth, of course, helps in that regard. Fellas like Eoghan O'Gara and Paul Flynn are mighty men.

"The players have such good engines. The athleticism throughout the team is phenomenal. And they are all such accomplished footballers."

Meath overcame Carlow and Kildare on their way to Sunday's date.

The Dubs got the better of Laois and Wexford as they now seek to defend the Leinster crown.

"I feel it will be the usual thing again. Meath will put it up to Dublin for so long, but, ultimately, it will be Dublin that will come through.

"When Dublin start to bring on the reinforcements, it is very hard to stay with them."

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