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a blue era Even with the loss of Macauley and Mannion Dublin are still the team to beat in 2021

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Paul Mannion will be missed by the Dubs this year

Paul Mannion will be missed by the Dubs this year

Paul Mannion will be missed by the Dubs this year

Yesterday was the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century.

In time to come it could be remembered as the day when the first cracks appeared in the Dublin football empire.

The day began with an elegant seven-word statement on twitter from Michael Darragh Macauley. The 2013 Footballer of the Year – who holds a record-equalling eight All-Ireland medals – announcing his retirement.

His tweet simply stated ‘Sin é uaimse. Míle buíochas ó chroi (That’s it from me. Many sincere thanks).

Then around tea-time word emerged that Paul Mannion would not be part of the Dublin squad in 2021.

So, within the space of 14 days Dessie Farrell has lost three players – Paddy Andrews retired last week - who between had accumulated a total of 21 All-Ireland medals.

Given that there are only 14 players still active at inter-county level who have won All-Ireland medals the feats of Macauley, Andrews and Mannion are seen in their proper context.

But before assuming that Dublin's bid for an unprecedented seven All-Ireland win in a row is now compromised, some perspective is needed.

Paddy Andrews was part of Dublin’s extended panel this season and his departure as no surprise.

Likewise, Michael Darragh Macauley must have sensed his days as a first team player were numbered when newcomer Tom Lahiff was chosen ahead of him for the Leinster championship games against Westmeath and Laois.

Macauley, who was Footballer of the Year in 2013, was on the 26-man match day squad for the All-Ireland final against Mayo. But he picked up his eighth All-Ireland medal without having a second of championship football.

Mannion’s case is different. He hasn’t retired, instead he opted to take a break from Dublin.

The 27-year-old was at the peak of his career. He was the only forward to win three consecutive All Star awards between 2017 and 2019. It was assumed he would be a first-choice player in the autumn championship.

New boss Dessie Farrell had other ideas, however, and opted to keep both Mannion and another current All-Star Brian Howard on the bench. Apparently, it was part of a strategy to have the best team on the field at the business end of the match.

It worked with both Mannion and Howard making significant contributors off the bench even if Dublin were rarely stretched apart from a period midway through the first half against Mayo.

But like Jack McCaffrey who walked away from the squad last year, Mannion was a different breed of footballer.

He was the first high-profile player to reveal he was a vegan. He wanted to do something positive about climate change and so opted for a fully plant-based diet. “To me, to change the diet, was the easiest thing that I could do,” he said.

It is a measure of Dublin’s strength in depth that though they’ve lost two players at the peak in the last nine months, but they are still short priced favourites (4/6) to win again in 2021.

Let’s not forget that the 34 players left on the current squad have collected a total of 155 Celtic Crosses in the last ten years.

The departure of Jack McCaffrey was supposed to be a game-changer, but his direct replacement Robbie McDaid was so effective that the Clontarf ace was scarcely missed in the 2020 championship.

But drowning men clutch at straws and GAA fans outside the capital will see the departure of Mannion as a chink of light in terms of making the All-Ireland series more competitive.

Lest we forget though that their nearest rivals Mayo have lost five of their most experienced players David Clarke, Chris Barrett, Donal Vaughan, Tom Parsons, and Seamus O’Shea since the start of the year while three Kerry squad players, Brian Kelly, Shane Enright, and Jonathan Lyne also opted out.

On the other hand, Donegal were boosted by the decision of Odhran MacNiallais to return to the squad, but Declan Bonner side has consistently failed to deliver when it matters most.

At 12/1 Tyrone are a decent long shot for the 2020 title. A new management team usually brings a positive response.

Having listened to the same voice throughout their careers the arrival of Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan will give the players a fresh impetus.

They are not short on talented footballers particularly in the forward division now boosted by the return of Conor McKenna from Australia and the probable return of Cathal McShane following knee surgery.

The qualifiers are due to return in 2021 and Tyrone have a long history of making the most of their second chances if they bow out of the Ulster series.

Still, let’s not get carried away. We don’t know for sure when the 2021 championship will be played. But it is still Dublin’s to lose.

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