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Kerry look the team to beat as Dubs are not same

Gavin's team could go down as the greatest but could be vulnerable this year: Glennon

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BEST OF THE BEST: Dublin’s Brian Fenton is chased by Seán O’Shea of Kerry

BEST OF THE BEST: Dublin’s Brian Fenton is chased by Seán O’Shea of Kerry

SPORTSFILE

BEST OF THE BEST: Dublin’s Brian Fenton is chased by Seán O’Shea of Kerry

It was a statement that leaped from the transcript of Jim Gavin's RTÉ radio interview last Sunday - the nearest we have come to a revelation from the man himself into what made him tick.

"People would have said that I was ruthless as a Dublin manager," said Gavin. "I don't think I was ruthless; I was relentless."

The man who oversaw sporting history was talking about leadership in all its facets, but Gavin's role in masterminding football's first five-in-a-row will forever remain his legacy.

Where did this relentlessness manifest itself? On the pitch itself. Not just on the big All-Ireland days, even if this is where Dublin proved their greatness.

Remember those perennial Leinster turkey shoots? Even when spectators, media and everyone else present had long since tuned out, Dublin's frontline troops and voracious artillery off the bench kept on plundering.

This was never more apparent than during the 2017 semi-final against Westmeath. In the previous two provincial finals, Tom Cribbin's doughty underdogs had parked the bus - and it worked, in a fashion, up to half-time before the inevitable gaps appeared and quickly transferred to the scoreboard.

Massacre

The following year, though, was on another level. For the opening 12 minutes, Westmeath battled to achieve parity but from there on it was carnage, all culminating in Gavin's record margin of victory during his seven-year reign: 31 points, a 4-29 to 0-10 massacre.

Some 13 years earlier, Denis Glennon had been the lightning fast rookie in Páidí Ó Sé attack that created a Croke Park earthquake by beating Dublin. Now, in '17, the Tyrrellspass man was the thirtysomething veteran in his swansong season, introduced after 57 minutes with all hope long extinguished.

What really struck Glennon in those latter-day clashes with Gavin's Dublin was their off-the-charts fitness levels.

"I was at the end of my career," he recalls. "I remember at one stage Jack McCaffrey got a ball. Now, he was after playing for I'd say 50-odd minutes, non-stop, and he was relentless, running up and down the field.

"I came on and I said to myself, 'I'm going to prove that I still have that bit of pace in me and I'll keep with this fella.' I gave everything to stay with him, from one end of the pitch to the other. And he laid it off - I was delighted he didn't go any further, normally he runs and sticks it in the net.

"But he turned around and he went back up the field at the exact same pace he was after running with the ball. And I literally had to go down on my two hands and knees to catch my breath. And I said, 'Oh my God! These are different machines altogether than what I grew up playing against.'"

Over three years on, Dublin and Westmeath renew their SFC rivalry in another Leinster semi-final. So much has changed: it will be in Portlaoise (this Saturday), in November, minus fans - and minus Jim Gavin.

Glennon isn't convinced that Gavin's departure changes everything … but he isn't entirely convinced by Dessie Farrell's Dublin either.

"Managers can get you ready for it but, at the same time, if you're not tuned in, you're not going to perform. I think what Dublin had when Jim Gavin was there, they had probably the greatest team that ever played football," he proclaims.

But, since then, they've lost "unbelievable players". Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly have retired. And McCaffrey is gone too, for this year at least.

"Have they replaced them? I don't know - I suppose time's going to tell. I wasn't overly impressed by them in their league campaign this year, compared to previous years," says Glennon.

"I'd be more impressed with the Kerry team, the way they've been developing towards this championship.

"If Westmeath did fear them, they wouldn't have got a full complement of players back - and they did get everyone back. So that will tell you the way the mindset is here in Westmeath, that they genuinely believe that they're not going to be hammered, the way they have been in previous years."

Glennon is not suggesting for one minute that 2004 is about to repeat itself. But in the bigger picture of chasing All-Irelands, Covid-19 has transformed the landscape.

"Even going back to when I was playing, any time we got Dublin out of Croke Park you genuinely believed that you were playing a different team," he maintains.

"We played them in Navan in '08 in the Division 2 league final, and we beat them. We played them in the O'Byrne Cup in Loman's - I know it's only an O'Byrne Cup match, but they still had a lot of their first-team players playing, and we beat them.

"So it's a different atmosphere, different conditions. For a team like Westmeath that wouldn't be playing in massive games, year in, year out, it takes the pressure off them, rather than playing in Croke Park where they have a full crowd and it's a big pitch.

"They're just so accustomed to playing up there … if you can stay with them for 60 minutes, you can be sure the last five-ten minutes, they're going to blow you out of the water because they have it in the tank and they've had players coming off the bench who have won Footballer of the Year titles."

In these changed times, Glennon surmises that "they are vulnerable - but at the same time they are Dublin. They are the team to beat. So, it's going to be an interesting year. It's one of those years where I'm kind of optimistic that there might be a change in who's going to win the All-Ireland."


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