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Philly ready for a Royal rumble

MAYBE the passing of time has finally dimmed the senses of the Dublin/Meath '90s rivalry or maybe it's just because the most recent installment was such a freak chapter, but the nostalgia-fest which generally accompanies the days leading up a Leinster Old Firm will be heavily stocked with references to 2010.

You'll hear lots of 'it was a turning point for Dublin,' plenty of 'watershed moments' and no lack of 'humbling experiences' but to try and put specifics on it, exactly what happened?

One theory that did the rounds afterwards - and put on plenty of weight after Dublin's successful patch-job qualifier run -- was that Meath were the only team they encountered that year to play with three inside forwards.

They had natural snipers who played high up the pitch on a massively inexperienced and as-yet largely unorganised Blues defence and thus opened Dublin for five, albeit immaculately dispatched goals.

And, of more relevance, if that's the template - and considering all but one of the Meath starting forwards that day (the injured Shane O'Rourke besides) are still centrally involved - could Meath go the same route again on Sunday?

"If they're confident enough to have their full-back line mark our full-forward line without anybody dropping back in, we'll be happy enough with that," says Philly McMahon wryly. "We'll go man-to-man as well at the back."

"We're defenders; me, Mick (Fitzsimons), Rory (O'Carroll), Cian (O'Sullivan) - whoever ... we are corner-backs, we're not just players that mark space. If they want to put three in, we'll mark three."

It's a rarity, though. Whatever about playing with two targets and a 'floating' link man, it's doesn't happen very often that McMahon, O'Carroll and Fitzsimons all find themselves stuck rigidly to men for an entire 70 minutes.

Rare

"No it doesn't," agrees McMahon, "and it's all based on who you have; who are your full-forward line and how good are they. There are not many teams who would be able to handle our full-forward line, to be honest. So it's rare they go with three up front. It would be good, though," he adds. "It would be different."

McMahon, in the past two years, has been the chief beneficiary of such two-pronged approaches. Last year, he lost his spot after picking up an injury in the victory over Laois but the previous season, during Dublin's qualifier run post-Meath, he earned a spot on the GPA Team of the Year for his exploits primarily as the 'spare man' in their full-back line.

That day, however, Dublin were overwhelmed.

Stephen Bray - dividing his time between corner duty and further afield -- kicked 2-1. Cian Ward scored 1-4, 1-1 of which came from play.

O'Rourke, who started at right corner-forward, managed three points from play whilst both Joe Sheridan and substitute, Brian Farrell - sure to start this Sunday - pitched in with a goal apiece.

It was, in every sense, a blitz. Pat Gilroy bemoaned "really silly errors," partially blaming the callowness of youth and inexperience but noted how the intention of "hustling Meath further out the pitch" had gone badly, badly awry.

For his part, McMahon lasted only 55 minutes.

"When you look back at that, it was a lesson for us," he admits. "We didn't play to the standard that we could have, system-wise. That wasn't from a management point of us, but from the players.

"We deviated from the things that worked. What was going on there was, we were moving well. Probably too well. And we got a bit of a wakeup call that day conceding so many goals.

"We were like: 'hold on, what's going on here?' It was a learning curve because it was so bad."

Not that Dublin's defensive resistance looked particularly polished in the win over Wexford either.

McMahon puts the first-half malaise down to "not working as a team and not getting enough cover from the forwards."

Tactically, too, he accepts that Wexford had got their preparations spot-on.

Stretched

"They played four in the half-forward line in the first half and they stretched the half-back line a lot," he explains. "We needed a bit more support from the forwards. We needed to work together as a unit and that's what we did in the second half, we got to grips with the four."

Time was, Meath in a Leinster final was the sort of date which would define Dublin's season. The backdoor and the lack of a consistently-challenging Royal outfit have blunted its edge though.

"The rivalry there isn't as big as it used to be for me personally," McMahon admits. "But I'm not speaking for some of the older lads who would have it a bit more. But they're your neighbours, you obviously don't want them to have the bragging rights."

Of more concern though, is the prize on offer on Sunday. Seven Delaney Cups in 10 years and the repatriation of Sam Maguire to the capital last season has, for many, dimmed the importance and prestige of another Leinster title but not, apparently, for McMahon.

"Personally, for me, it's huge," he states. "You take nothing for granted. I was injured for a lot of last year and they're all treated as the same. If you start putting too much emphasis on any game, you'll freeze.

"But I think when I look back in a few years and ask myself 'what have you won?,' that will be a big one for me. Leinster titles, even league titles are very important for me. And I want to win another one next Sunday."