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Thursday 12 December 2019

Beast of the East will not be halted

Meath can't hope to bridge gap on Dubs as Leinster is pushed to margins

Paul Mannion
Paul Mannion

The last time someone other than Dublin had the temerity to reign over the eastern province, in 2010, the Leinster SFC final concluded in chaos.

"Dick Turpin without a mask" was the metaphor proffered by a furious Louth manager, Peter Fitzpatrick, to describe the awarding of Joe Sheridan's 'ghost goal' for Meath at the death - the most infamously illegal match-winner in modern GAA history.

Today, if Dick Turpin were to resurface on Leinster final day and conjure up another last-minute act of daylight robbery, it would deliver a consolation goal at best.

Even if he were joined by every legendary bandit from Butch Cassidy to Ronnie Biggs, it would serve only to alter the margin, not the outcome.

There are now three certainties in life: death, taxes and Stephen Cluxton lifting the Delaney Cup. This is the unenviable position in which Meath find themselves: Royal delight at reaching a first provincial final in five years tempered by the dawning realisation of what comes next.

So, what would constitute a triumph for Andy McEntee and his players on June 23?

The history of this decade, coupled with the corroborating evidence of Sunday's back-to-back semi-finals, would tell us that if Meath keep the margin to single digits, they should regard that as further progress in a season that has already delivered promotion to Division 1.

It would sustain morale for that all-important fourth-round qualifier.

The very fact that Leinster finals are discussed without any outcome-related suspense tells you everything you need to know.

Here, then, are three reasons why Dublin will definitely become the first county anywhere to win nine provincial football titles on the spin ...

1. MARGINS

The scorelines don't lie. It's not merely that Dublin keep winning, but that they do so by such mammoth margins.

Since Gavin made his SFC baptism, against Westmeath six years ago, they have won 18 of their 20 Leinster ties by double-digit margins.

The two exceptions were the finals of 2013, when they beat Meath by seven; and 2017, when they vanquished Kildare by nine.

Here's the real killer: last summer they won their three games by a cumulative 60 points, a new Gavin benchmark. So far this summer they are on course to emulate or even eclipse that: their 26-point cruise past Louth and 15-point win over Kildare translating into a 41-point chasm.

2. COMPETITION

"What competition?" you may ask. We are talking internal competition, the real driver of Dublin's sustained pursuit of excellence.

So far, they have cruised into another final without any input from two of Gavin's mainstays - injured duo Jonny Cooper and Dean Rock haven't made either match-day squad.

Would you have noticed the absence of their go-to man-marker and premier freetaker? Only in sporadic flashes, such as the three goal chances created (but spurned) by Kildare on Sunday.

The good news is that Gavin now appears to have more defensive options than ever before: with Philly McMahon, Rory O'Carroll and Eoin Murchan all champing at the bit for game-time, the training ground should be sup remely competitive - and that's before you even factor in a Cooper comeback.

As for the loss of Rock's deadball darts, you'd scarcely have noticed with Cormac Costello nailing almost everything - while shooting 1-6 from play into the bargain.

3. HEAD-TO-HEAD

Here's another giant psychological fence: will Meath truly believe that they can last the pace for 70-plus minutes?

The time has long since passed when the county's tradition, DNA, its very 'Meathness', provided a protective layer of self-belief.

The head-to-record against Gavin is telling: defeats by seven points (2013), 16 (2014) and 10 (2016).

The only game here to offer any solace was 2013, when Meath actually led at the break by two points.

This was the last Leinster final where Dublin trailed at half-time. Given their tendency to run amok in the second half, that scarcely augurs well.

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