Thursday 18 January 2018

Dublin have worked for this day to come

Gavin's men can secure back-to-back Sam Maguires

Bernard Brogan and Keith Higgins. Photo: Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan and Keith Higgins. Photo: Sportsfile

Little things in the week of an All-Ireland can convince you it's all coming together.

Last year, we had a training weekend in Powerscourt, where we stayed on the Friday and Saturday nights of the week before the final.

Those trips can go either way but as it turned out, it was a great camp. I knew it was probably my last time with the group so I soaked it all up.

I came away from it feeling really positive about the final and I wasn't in the minority. You can sense that.

On the Saturday evening after the work was done, I stood up and addressed the squad.

Now you wouldn't always be comfortable in that situation but I felt afterwards I'd been well received.

Great opportunity. Seize the day. All the rest.

Jim Gavin texted me that night to tell me how well I spoke. The same with my uncle Jim, who was involved in the backroom team.

See, you don't always appreciate the clout you might have.

I obviously knew I had a lot of experience at that stage, but I just considered myself one of the lads. No different to anyone else.

It doesn't always dawn on you that your words might carry a bit more weight or the effect they might have on some of the younger fellas.

I was rooming with Davey Byrne from Ballymun Kickhams for the weekend.

Now anyone who knows Davey knows he's a hard, hard man on the football pitch. Doesn't mince his words either.

But as it turned out, we used to have a good bit of craic with one another.

The Saturday night, Davey snuck a chocolate brownie up to the room, which we split over a cup of tea.

Seven days off the All-Ireland final and there we were, munching happily away like a pair of 'oul ones in Bewley's.

Anyway, Davey turned to me and said 'I thought you were an arrogant f***er when I came in here first.

"But after getting to know you for a couple of years, you're actually sound."

Cheers Davey! They're the little things I mean.

Leaving Powerscourt, I knew we were in a good place. All of us. You just get that feeling sometimes.

The sense that everyone in the orchestra is in tune. That whatever the opposition bring, that we were still going to perform.

And Dublin are in the rare position now where if they do perform collectively, they're almost certain to win any game.


I knew I was starting on the bench last year and for that reason, I felt less pressure.

The game was going to start without me. I wouldn't have that intense inner battle to be at the pitch of the match from throw-in.

So I probably took up a bit of the slack when it came to setting the mood.

The mood has long been set in the Dublin camp by the likes of Stephen Cluxton, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard and Paul Flynn and yes, there will have been a natural comedown from that Kerry game.

They've experienced that before.

And they'll have discussed it in the meeting room in the week afterwards, to make sure lads don't spend a week smelling themselves before getting down to hard work.

The dynamic of this final is interesting.

Dublin won't fear Mayo but neither will Mayo tremble at the thought of Dublin.

Mayo have pushed Dublin closer and more often than any team over the past five or six years.

They beat us in 2012. They might have beaten us last year in the drawn game as well.

Even in the replay, they were probably the better team going into the last 15 minutes but it was the Dublin depth of talent that won it.

Myself, Kev Mac, Mick Macauley, Mick Fitzsimons all came in and made a contribution and only for that, Mayo would have won.

As ever, kick-outs are vital because possession is vital.

I spoke to David Brady during the week and he reckoned David Clarke's had come on in a big way as the year has gone on and to me, it looks like he has much more variation than he had previously.

Stephen Cluxton's are equally vital and Mayo will obviously have done a lot of work on them but the fact is, no single approach will work all day, so the amount of joy Mayo have will be in direct proportion to how often they can make him do something he doesn't want to do.

But mostly, he's seen just about every approach and these are the sort of stages on which Stephen flourishes.

Like just about everyone else, I think the Diarmuid Connolly/Lee Keegan battle will be key.

Keegan has done well on Diarmuid on the last number of years.

But going into the second game last year, Diarmuid obviously had to deal with the appeal saga and he had been up late a couple of nights in the week beforehand.

His suspension wasn't overturned until 3 o'clock on the morning of the match. His preparation wasn't right at all.

And even if Mayo get joy there, you still have Kevin, Bernard and Dean Rock to contend with.

And Paddy Andrews, Eoghan O'Gara and Paul Mannion coming at you in the last 15 minutes, so it's going to take a gargantuan defensive effort from Mayo for 80 minutes or whatever to keep Dublin to a score they can hope to better themselves.

If Mayo put in a great performance, they're absolutely capable of beating Dublin.

But there's too much at stake here for Jim Gavin's Dublin.

There's an All-Ireland, a back-to-back and the associated claims on greatness. This team has been building this opportunity for themselves over the last five or six years and I fully expect them to take it now.

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