herald

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Dubs leave rest in the margins

Excitable fuss over Leinster draw drowned by cold stats

Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Dublin manager Jim Gavin

EIGHT-THIRTY-FIVE in the morning is far too early for such enthusiasm, but that didn't deter Darren Frehill.

"We're pretty excited here in the Morning Ireland studio - because we have a draw," he told the nation yesterday. And not any old draw, either: we're talking the Leinster Senior Football Championship!

Our inner cynic couldn't but wonder had the RTÉ presenter misread his audience: all those battle-scarred fans who realise there are GAA dreams, GAA pipe-dreams ... and the Leinster championship.

A few years back, there was a huge fuss when Real Madrid completed La Decima - the magical figure of ten European Cups.

Next June, Dublin will complete their own Decima - the first to win ten provincial football championships on the spin.

Their success will be greeted with a barely visible shrug - in the capital itself.

The losers will hope they aren't so badly scarred by the margin as to inflict fatal damage on their hopes of Super 8s qualification. The more enlightened might even try memory erasure therapy.

JUGGERNAUT

In fairness, we don't believe any Leinster wannabe goes into provincial battle with the Sky Blue juggernaut wishing the game away. But, deep down, they know what's about to unfold.

Dublin's routine brilliance is now taken for granted, which is unfair on this special generation of players. The flip side is that their local domination has sucked the last breath of competitive life out of a championship that used to be held up as a paragon of unpredictability, to such an extent that you had four alternating winners between 1995 and '98, and four different ones again between '01 and '04.

Remember the twin Dublin horrors of '03 and '04 … and the euphoria as Laois and Westmeath went on to claim historic titles? The response has been well documented: 14 titles out of 15, prompting many to question the long-term viability of the entire provincial system. Even those traditionalists in thrall to the status quo will privately admit that Leinster has passed the point of rescue.

Next May, Westmeath will become the latest wannabe in Dublin's firing line.

For all their initial spring progress under Jack Cooney this year, the auguries aren't promising: the county's four SFC encounters with Jim Gavin have resulted in defeats by 16 points, 13, 15 and 31.

Herein lies the ultimate proof that Leinster cannot carry on indefinitely in the hope that Kildare/Meath morph into a giant-slaying contender, or that Dublin simply grow bored of winning. It's all about the margins ...

3 In four years of Pillar Caffrey's reign, Dublin played 14 Leinster games, winning 13 and drawing once with Meath. The average winning margin was 7.43 points.

3 Under Pat Gilroy, Dublin won ten out of 11 in Leinster (including an extra-time victory over Wexford) and infamously lost to Meath. Despite that 11-point outlier, the average winning margin was 5.73 points.

3 And under Gavin? Seven years, 21 romps by a cumulative 346 points - and an average margin of 16.48 points.

Notwithstanding what has been a generally positive summer crowned by a thrilling, history-making finale, inter-county football needs a radical reappraisal of its competitive structures.

By that, we don't mean a second-tier championship that barely touches on the problems of the weaker counties, or something more drastic like splitting Dublin (which remains a total non-runner).

We need to be bold and brave. We need to realise that we can't keep fooling everyone that Leinster still matters.

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