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Can Meath get to the next level and rattle the Dubs? It doesn’t appear so

Some would have you believe that Dublin’s victory over Wexford was a definite sign that the good times are ready to roll again in the capital, but I’d argue for caution.

Statement of intent: Brian Fenton leads the Dublin charge against Wexford. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

We are almost a month into the championship and results have gone along expected lines.

The exception was Derry’s defeat of reigning champions, Tyrone, in the Ulster bear pit.

If the bookies’ odds were based purely on a county’s most recent form then the Oak Leafers would be higher up the pecking order than ninth favourites; it’s probably an indicator of the indecision punters have with regard to this year. It’s hard to get a read on it yet.

Of course, some would have you believe that Dublin’s victory over Wexford was a definite sign that the good times are ready to roll again in the capital, but I’d argue for caution. I wouldn’t be reaching to the back of the wardrobe to fetch the ‘Jacks are Back’ T-shirts – not yet anyway!

If I learnt anything during my playing days, it was that proper perspective is always lost when it comes to analysing the Dubs – when things were deemed bad, they were not as bad as many would have you believe and when things appeared more positive, a slap in the face was just around the corner.

The predominant verdict on the Wexford game was that Dublin had solved their problems. They’ll possibly be in contention come July but reading anything into it was fool’s gold in my opinion.

With all due respect, Wexford are a Division 4 side who had struggled to find consistency. Yes, they had a good performance against Offaly, but the Faithful were understrength, particularly in their forward division. While the Slaneysiders had contained Dublin to a decent degree 12 months previously at the same venue, nine times out of 10 the Dubs will give them a trimming.

Let’s also not forget that they had only a six-day turnaround to prepare for Dublin which is arguably not fair. From a performance perspective, Dublin got the job done. Yes, there were positives.

Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin in action against Eoghan Nolan of Wexford

After a nervy opening they controlled the game. Dublin pressed up on the Wexford kick-outs and lorded the middle sector.

Their forward play was much improved with more clever movement than what we saw in the league, more unselfish runs, greater tempo, while Con O’Callaghan’s return added much-needed firepower to their attack.

O’Callaghan is a joy to watch in full flow, his quickness of feet to turn defenders and switch from his right to left or vice versa is so difficult to defend against. He is clear-minded in possession and things tend to happen when he has the leather locked under his arm.

Brian Fenton also had a massive influence, kicking 0-5 points from play. He was very active and cleverly generated scoring opportunities; indeed, he may have scored more. Fenton is excellent at creating the space to kick scores around the ‘D’. Regularly, against Wexford, he drifted ahead of the play and then with great timing swooped back on the on the loop to fire over – which is very hard to defend against.

While kicking 0-5 was a positive, I would also challenge the fact that there is a reliance on a midfielder to make such a big contribution.

It’s likewise for Galway and Paul Conroy. He’s probably the best long-range point-scorer in the game at this moment but that strength could highlight a team’s weakness as the summer progresses.

As the championship picks up pace and the better opposition pinpoint key contributors, it can sometimes be easier to tag or limit the scoring influence of a midfielder than an inside forward.

While I’m urging caution with regard to reading too much into Dublin’s display against Wexford, there was one aspect that stuck out for me. When Fenton was interviewed afterwards, instead of spinning through the usual bland comments he was to the point and it gave an insight into the mindset of Dessie Farrell’s men after their poor league campaign.

“There’s probably just a bit of a chip on our shoulder. We’re certainly hungry for more success,” he said.

The biggest question throughout the league was whether the hunger was there for the core of this group. With their pockets jangling with medals, with many hanging up the boots and others opting out like Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey, looking at the body language during the league some questioned if the appetite of some key players was waning.

Some did struggle, but Fenton’s statement of intent will give Dublin fans some comfort that they are relishing coming in from the blindside this year.

The attention turns to Meath this Sunday – the Royals must be sick of this Dublin team as they have only beaten them once (2010) in their last 10 championship meetings. A rivalry that once used to attract massive crowds, live TV, and usually took on a life of its own, it no longer generates anything close to the same excitement – which is a pity.

Some day that will change but could it be as soon as this Sunday?

The real question is can Meath build on last year’s performance. Many were heading for the exit gates at half-time as Dublin cruised into a 10-point lead but after half-time Matthew Costello’s goal gave Meath some momentum and all of a sudden the Royals were back on Dublin’s coat-tails and within three points coming down the stretch.

I remember the atmosphere in Croke Park changing dramatically.

Dublin fans were suddenly scratching their heads in disbelief while Meath then maybe panicked a small bit and lacked the composure to push on.

So can Meath get to the next level and rattle the Dubs? Have Meath improved this year? It doesn’t appear so.

In Division 2, their form wasn’t great; they opened with defeats to Galway (11 points) and Roscommon (four points) before draws against Down and Offaly helped to steady the ship – the return to action of Bryan Menton, Conor McGill and Ronan Jones strengthened them sufficiently to fend off relegation fears with wins over Cork and Clare.

Their performance against Wicklow was average at times; they lacked pace going forward and were turned over too easily by Wicklow – despite scoring two goals early on.

However, the rumours from the Royal County are that they plan on targeting Dublin’s full-back line in a serious way. David Byrne’s absence through injury is a big loss to Dublin – defensive options in the last line of defence are slim.

Add to that the fact that Evan Comerford missed the conclusion of the league and the opener against Wexford. If Dublin have to go with rookie David O’Hanlon again, rest assured Meath will ask questions in that area.

Sunday’s other Leinster semi-final pits Kildare against Westmeath. Football is on the rise in Kildare at the moment, their U-20s look a fine side and have progressed as Leinster champions to an All-Ireland final against Tyrone; their minors made short work of Meath, Longford, Offaly and Wicklow to advance to the upcoming Leinster MFC final, so the more optimistic of Lilywhites will be dreaming of a historic first provincial clean sweep.

The players and management should not be thinking any further than their next opponents, knowing Westmeath should pose plenty of problems.

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