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c'ship shock Dessie Farrell must fear that this All-Ireland could spring another surprise - with Dublin the victims

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Dublin manager Dessie Farrell watches on as Dublin take on Westmeath in the Leinster Football Championship

Dublin manager Dessie Farrell watches on as Dublin take on Westmeath in the Leinster Football Championship

SPORTSFILE

Dublin manager Dessie Farrell watches on as Dublin take on Westmeath in the Leinster Football Championship

WE will have to wait until Dublin boss Dessie Farrell pens another autobiography before we find out how he really felt when Cork’s Mark Keane scored the most famous goal so far in the 2020 All-Ireland championship.

In a flash, Dublin’s biggest rivals, Kerry, had been unceremoniously dumped out of the race for Sam Maguire. There was no second chance for Peter Keane’s charges.

It was a throw-back to an era when Farrell was a player and Dublin had to put everything on the line in the Leinster championship, usually against Meath, only to come up short on more occasions than he would care to remember.

On Saturday evening Dublin had taken care of business in their first outing in the Leinster series against Westmeath. Everything about their first-half performance contrasted sharply with Kerry’s lacklustre effort in the biblical rain against Cork.

Dublin were clinical, efficient, and ruthless from the throw-in, applying a full press on Westmeath’s kick-outs and scarcely allowing the underdogs time to breathe. True, they didn’t score a goal, but there were few faults in the performance.

A key plank in Dublin’s longevity as All-Ireland champions is their ability to introduce at least one new face every season. On the evidence of last weekend, Dessie Farrell will continue the policy initiated by his predecessor Jim Gavin.

Last year it was David Byrne who finally established himself as a first-team regular. The previous year it was Eoin Murchan and Brian Howard. So, who will this year’s springer be?

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Mark Keane of Cork celebrates with teammates

Mark Keane of Cork celebrates with teammates

SPORTSFILE

Mark Keane of Cork celebrates with teammates

Based on the team that started against Westmeath there are four contenders - Robbie McDaid, Tom Lahiff, Sean Bugler and Paddy Small.

The latter scarcely fits the category of ‘springer’. He made his debut in 2018 and now has nine championship appearances . He would have made more but for a series of injuries.

McDaid and Bugler made their championship debuts last year, but Lahiff is this year’s ‘left-of-centre’ arrival. He wasn’t on the extended Dublin squad last year but did well for St Jude’s in the club championship.

Lahiff is the prototype Dublin footballer. Physically imposing, mobile and a natural leader. He partnered Brian Fenton last Saturday night. It remains to be seen whether he can continue to keep Brian Howard off the starting 15.

One suspects the Dublin training matches are far more intense than their championship matches in Leinster.

Still, Farrell must guard against complacency. The 2020 championship is unforgiving – one bad day at the office and the dream is over.

Donegal were the last team to beat Dublin in the All-Ireland series in 2014 and Meath were their last conquerors in the Leinster series in 2010.

So, of the 11 teams left in the championship, how many have a realistic chance of ending Dublin’s drive for six All-Irelands in a row?

At a stretch, only Kerry, Donegal, Tyrone, Mayo, and Galway would have been seen as having any chance of upsetting the Dubs before a ball was kicked in 2020.

With Donegal and Tyrone clashing in the first round of the Ulster series and Mayo and Galway always likely to meet in the Connacht final, the list of contenders was even fewer.

Realistically, nobody rated Cork as contenders and probably still don’t. But if the Rebels beat Tipperary in the Munster final and manage to dispatch the Connacht champions in the All-Ireland semi-final then their rating will change dramatically. Right now, they’re fifth in the market at 10/1.

It is conceivable, though unlikely, that when Dublin take to the field on Sunday the current second favourites for the Sam Maguire Cup, Donegal, will have been eliminated – they face a tricky Ulster semi-final assignment on Saturday against Armagh.

But one of Mayo or Galway – currently priced at 6/1 and 15/2 respectively – will be gone from the race by the half time in the Dublin v Laois tie.

Maybe the Gods have ordained that on the centenary of Bloody Sunday the two teams that played that day, Dublin and Tipperary, will meet in the 2020 All-Ireland final.

But romance and the All-Ireland series are uneasy bed fellows. Just ask Mayo, who will now be looking for inspiration from US President-elect Joe Biden to finally get across the finish line.

The 2020 All-Ireland is literally and metaphorically cold and ruthless. What Farrell will fear most is that it just might contain another shock and Dublin could be the victims.

Could the written-off Royals do the unthinkable?

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