Bad news for Cork football and the rest... dominant Dubs are not going away

Bad news for Cork football and the rest... dominant Dubs are not going away
Eoghan O'Gara, Dublin, battling Cork's Tom Clancy and Andrew O'Sullivan in a league semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

NOBODY knows how long this Dublin football story will last, or for how much further they can extend their winning run, but when their glorious ‘five-in-a-row’ is examined in time, the closing minutes of the 2019 All-Ireland final will be viewed as a pivotal part of this team’s history and legacy.

A point down and a man down, and with Kerry seemingly having all the momentum at the right time, when Dublin needed to find a way, they did. In the last ten minutes, including injury time, Dublin had six shots to Kerry’s none.

After turning the ball over just four times (excluding shots dropped short) in the opening 66 minutes, Kerry were turned over on four occasions in those last ten minutes.

Despite being a man down for over 40 minutes, Dublin were still the team playing with manic energy and intensity when the heat was at its most intense.

Dublin were far better again in the replay. All but one of their scores came from play. Dublin had eight scorers to Kerry’s four.

The six-point winning margin may have been a little harsh on Kerry but winning in such style was the ultimate way for Dublin to achieve the five-in-a-row - because this was their best performance in an All-Ireland final.

Any analysis of the 2019 championship will obviously be dominated by Dublin, not just because they won the five-in-a-row, but because of the way in which they secured that history, in such style, and under such pressure.

Dublin have long been viewed as a machine. They never reveal any details of how that machine works but, after he retired, Eoghan O’Gara offered some insight into the pressure Dublin were under in 2019.

“There was a weight on us,” said O’Gara. “I don’t know if it was complacency but there was pressure coming from the outside that was hard to avoid.

“The previous years it wasn’t as loud. But the five hadn’t been done. Even though we were talking about how it won’t affect us, we’re human beings.

“We all have to go about our day. Between family and work, you’re getting it everywhere. It’s very hard for that not to come in on top of you when you’re on the pitch then.” 

Despite the brilliance of this team, Dublin’s dominance still hangs over the game like a giant shadow. The departure of Jim Gavin may change the landscape next season but Dublin will still be a serious force throughout the next decade.

The big question now as football heads into that decade is who can keep pace with Dublin? Kerry certainly will but, if there is to be a queue of contenders by the early part of the decade, it certainly won’t be as long as it was at the outset of this decade.

That first year – in 2010 - hinted at a whole new world of possibility for Gaelic football. 

Ciarán Sheehan is caught by Down keeper Brendan McVeigh. Picture: Dan Linehan
Ciarán Sheehan is caught by Down keeper Brendan McVeigh. Picture: Dan Linehan

Sligo beat Mayo and Galway but Roscommon still won a first Connacht title in nine years; Louth were robbed of a Leinster title; Limerick could have won a Munster title; Longford defeated Mayo in the qualifiers; Wexford defeated Galway in Pearse Stadium; Down reached an All-Ireland final; Kildare should have reached an All-Ireland final. And Cork finally won a first All-Ireland for 20 years.

Nine years on, Sligo, Louth, Kildare, Wexford, Limerick, Down and Cork are at a completely different stage when compared to their status at the outset of the decade.

Hoping for a radical democratic age was always wishful thinking, especially when playing numbers, funding and sports science, was always likely to make the strong stronger. Yet probably the most important result in 2010 was also one of its most understated. Donegal were annihilated and embarrassed by Armagh in Crossmaglen but it was the silent trigger point for a new way of Gaelic football.

Jim McGuinness fired the first shot of the revolution but the regime was ultimately overtaken by Dublin.

At face value, Gaelic football this decade has mirrored hurling in the last decade; the game has been dominated by one all-consuming superpower. Dublin have ruled this period with the same supreme authority that Kilkenny governed with during the last decade.

Kilkenny won seven All-Irelands in the 2000s, the same number as Dublin this decade. Yet Kilkenny also won four of the first six All-Irelands of this decade, which is something Dublin are capable of doing in the first half of the next decade.

So who can challenge that dominance outside of Kerry? 

At face value, Donegal, Tyrone, Mayo and Galway should be leading that charge. And the pack behind them should be getting stronger; teams like Cork, Kildare, Meath, Roscommon and Armagh have the potential to at least join that chasing pack as serious contenders.

Everything is judged now against Dublin and, while the Leinster championship will continue to be a write-off for a while yet, the 2019 championship did have some positives; the Ulster championship was the best in well over a decade; Roscommon deservedly won another Connacht title; Mayo were a legitimate force again; Cork looked to be on the way back.

Dublin will now start out this decade just like Kilkenny started out the last decade. Similar to how that played out, while Dublin may no longer gobble up everything in their way, it may take until the middle of the next decade until that domination is wrestled off them again.

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