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Thursday 22 August 2019

The dilemma for Leinster: two every year will do to keep Dubs out in front

HOUSE IN ORDER: Dublin’s John Costello. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
HOUSE IN ORDER: Dublin’s John Costello. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Forget Croke Park on Sunday; as Tomás Ó Sé lamented later on The Sunday Game, it was an hour-and-a-half of his life that he will never get back.

Instead, if you want a good place to ponder the lopsided dilemma facing Leinster GAA chiefs, as they wonder how to fix a crisis that may be beyond repair, we'd recommend Mullingar the previous day.

Ahead of Saturday's Leinster MFC semi-final against Dublin, keen observers of the Westmeath underage scene were privately confident that here was a team with genuine aspirations of silverware.

And when you've only won five Leinster minor titles in history, that's a big deal. After all, last year they lost all five group games, culminating in a 25-point hammering to a Dublin team that didn't even make the Leinster semi-finals.

Dreamland

For the first half-hour and opening second half salvoes, Joe Giles' side lived up to that promise. And when Ben McGauran goaled in the 36th minute, they were in dreamland. Five up. Against the mighty Dubs! One foot in the Leinster final ...

Then, like that, all changed. Dublin reeled off nine points before McGauran interrupted the onslaught. Too little, too late, as Alex Rogers put the seal on a 0-18 to 1-11 victory.

Next question: why did it happen? Two potential reasons. Firstly, Dublin had the bench to wrestle back momentum, no one more so than Ross Keogh. An inspired introduction, he kept showing at full-forward to hit 0-3 just as Dublin were teetering.

The next reason: whether it was all physical or partly psychological, Westmeath seemed to run out of gas from even before the three-quarter mark.

Dublin, by contrast, were bombing on to the last bell.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that even when a Leinster wannabe has a team to believe in, it may not be enough against Dublin.

To cite this as proof of money talking - that Dublin won because of fitness and greater depth, all because they have more resources than the rest - would be a disparaging slight on Jim Lehane's team.

They might lack the stardust of Dessie Farrell's minor generation of 2011-12 - the most important group in Dublin's ongoing senior domination - but they were more than deserving winners last Saturday.

Here's the thing, though: a bit like Kerry back in their noughties pomp, Dublin don't need to be winning minor titles every second year. If they can unearth a couple of young players every year with the skill set, athleticism and mindset to push for senior elevation, the conveyor belt will have done its job.

This is where demographics kick in. There are (as always) two sides to the argument about the fairness or otherwise of all the money pumped into juvenile coaching in Dublin, compared to everywhere else.

How could the GAA have ignored those urban wastelands in parts of the capital? Fair point. But fairness comes under the microscope when you have a long-established county boundary system that already carries a massive in-built advantage for Dublin - on the most rudimentary of levels, population.

Shrewd

Once Dublin GAA got its games development house in order under the shrewd command of John Costello, with funding in place and a multiplicity of sponsors then queuing up to attach itself to a winning brand, Dublin domination was almost inevitable.

Especially at Leinster level, albeit there is still a clear sense that Meath and Kildare aren't maximising their own strength in numbers. Maybe they, too, have been left hopelessly demoralised by the new reality.

As Senan Connell said last week: "Numbers do win out. Every now and again, you'll get a team that will come through at underage level - but will you get five or six or seven off that team? And Dublin are just taking two off winning teams maybe every few years."

For Dublin, two every year will probably do, their population and organisation making the perfect storm for a floundering Leinster SFC. 

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