herald

Monday 10 December 2018

Easy route could trouble Gavin's men this summer

Curveball

Coman Goggins
Coman Goggins

Those of us with a worrying penchant for peering into the future are sure to have considered Dublin's inevitable march to a record eighth consecutive Leinster SFC title.

We'll have assessed a provincial route paved with - not landmines, not even potholes - but just a few gentle speed bumps.

And it will quickly become apparent that the 'Unstoppables' won't be asked to play a solitary opponent from the top two league divisions until they get, equally inevitably, to the 'Super 8s'.

Is this good for Dublin? Doesn't seem to have done them any harm in recent years. Is this good for their invariably outclassed opponents? That's open to serious doubt.

Easiest

Top class: Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton
Top class: Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton

In any event, this summer's Leinster route - on paper - surely qualifies as the easiest yet faced in the Jim Gavin era.

Dublin's opening foray against Wicklow (eighth in Division 4) yielded a 23-point victory, 4-25 to 1-11.

Their next outing is Sunday's semi-final against Longford (third in Division 3) whose last championship collision with the Dubs turned into a 27-point rout at the same Croke Park venue.

Win this weekend, as surely they must, and the Delaney Cup holders will face either Laois (first in Division 4) or Carlow (second in the same division).

In other words, to reach the last-eight, Dublin will have played against one Division 3 opponent and two teams operating in the basement division last spring. Even if Longford, Laois and Carlow all bring momentum to HQ, on the back of impressive spring and early-summer results, you can't ignore their initial starting point.

All of this reaffirms what has been glaringly evident for several years: a gradual erosion of standards in all corners of the eastern province bar a certain Sky Blue outlier.

The big difference this summer is that Dublin's so-called chief rivals have all fallen off the face of a cliff - Kildare shocked by Carlow, Meath surprised by Longford, Westmeath dismissed by Laois.

Hence you don't have even one team from Divisions 1 or 2 blocking their path to July.

Back in 2002, Coman Goggins skippered Dublin to Leinster glory at a time when such an event was liable to cause a week-long dereliction of all cow-milking duties in Ballinteer.

Quoted in The Herald yesterday, Goggins wondered aloud if Leinster's current travails could yet impact on the Dubs.

"If you're not being tested," he said, "the question then is psychologically and mentally 'how do you deal with that?' Particularly if you go on the road in the 'Super 8s'.

"Kerry in Killarney, Monaghan in Clones or Mayo in Castlebar in July would be a big test of Dublin if you come through Leinster without having been asked some questions."

Walloped

That 'away-day' element is where 2018 differs from, say, 2015. Then, Dublin walloped Longford (promoted from Division 4), Kildare and Westmeath (both relegated from Division 2) by a cumulative 59 points to retain Leinster. Their reward was a Croker quarter-final against Fermanagh (promoted from Division 3).

Ultimately, that initially inviting route didn't impact on Dublin's quest to recapture Sam Maguire. And this time, you suspect, they are highly unlikely to blow up twice (whatever about once) over three rounds of the 'Super 8s'.

But it still offers some pause for thought.

Not that Jim Gavin is likely to utter such notions within earshot of a microphone. He hasn't looked beyond Longford this Sunday. Honestly!

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