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EXCLUSIVE From zero to a goal in 11 seconds: Speed of execution is hallmark of this great Dublin side

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21 November 2020; Dean Rock scores Dublin's first goal past Mark Brennan of Meath during the Leinster Final

21 November 2020; Dean Rock scores Dublin's first goal past Mark Brennan of Meath during the Leinster Final

22 November 2020; Conor Smith of Cavan celebrates after winning the Ulster final against Donegal

22 November 2020; Conor Smith of Cavan celebrates after winning the Ulster final against Donegal

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21 November 2020; Dean Rock scores Dublin's first goal past Mark Brennan of Meath during the Leinster Final

The comedian David McSavage did a Savage Eye sketch a few years back where two Cavan farmers from Ballyjamesduff were being interviewed by a priest following their (alleged) return from the Moon. It’s a parody of the old RTÉ Radharc series, or so I’m told, as that was before my time!

To summarise the sketch, under questioning one of the farmers realises they had not been walking on the Moon but, in fact, they had been in Belturbet.

One of the farmers describes their destination as “a very rocky, barren place, eerie and cold” with “no sign of life or any atmosphere whatsoever” - thus presuming, incorrectly, that their two and a half hour walk had taken them as far as the Moon.

The priest concludes the sketch by saying “one small step for man, one giant leap of faith for a Cavan man” - a play on the famous Neil Armstrong quote.

The odds against Cavan winning Ulster were probably something like the odds to be the first Cavan man to walk on the moon when the 2020 Gaelic games season restarted.

Was it faith or fate that played a part last weekend as Cavan and Tipperary completed the All-Ireland semi-final pairings for 2020? A mirror image of 100 years ago.

Well no one is telling Cavan Man jokes now following the Breffni County’s shock elimination of Donegal last Sunday.

Their victory was the culmination of an incredible week for the GAA - with the Bloody Sunday centenary remembrance front and centre.

In time we’ll reflect back on last weekend as the one when the return to action following lockdown made it all worthwhile.

The joy shown by the Cavan and Tipperary players and backroom which have resonated around their counties and natives of their counties around the globe.

While I definitely would not be a supporter of the narrative that a return to straight knockout is the future, it was an exceptional weekend which proves that anything is possible.

No one outside of the Cavan camp gave them a hope against Donegal, but they showed the self-belief, intensity and work-rate required, added to by some good calls from the line by their manager Mickey Graham.

Cavan had obviously studied Donegal’s display against Tyrone and learned from it. Tyrone achieved some success with long, early ball into the Donegal full-back line and Cavan exploited that in their shock victory.

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They are a big, physical side and set out with intent. They did not let Donegal set the terms of engagement as Declan Bonner’s men had done to devastating effect in their provincial semi-final victory over Armagh.

In several of their Ulster games, Cavan looked on the ropes but found an escape to victory and it was the belief and confidence they gained from victories of that nature that stood to them last Sunday.

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22 November 2020; Conor Smith of Cavan celebrates after winning the Ulster final against Donegal

22 November 2020; Conor Smith of Cavan celebrates after winning the Ulster final against Donegal

22 November 2020; Conor Smith of Cavan celebrates after winning the Ulster final against Donegal

And all they have to do now is defeat the Dubs to extend their fairytale season!

Dublin were outstanding against Meath and, to be honest, looked totally re-energised.

I expected a lot more from Meath on the basis of there being a lot of positivity in their camp in advance of the game and Andy McEntee looked to be improving his side, despite their league relegation.

But Dublin didn’t let them play, deprived them of oxygen and had them suffocated really by the first-half water break.

In Meath’s previous games they had time on the ball to get the head up, scan the situation and plot their next move - against Dublin they didn’t have a split-second.

This was evident in the early moments when Meath had a brief sighting of goal, but in that extra second they delayed they were swarmed by Dublin players and a goal-opportunity vanished.

For me, what was most impressive was the speed with which Dublin forwards got back to help out in defence and then the acceleration of movement by the players, as a unit, to transition into attack.

It’s this work-rate, will to win back every ball, and fluidity of positions that is one of the hallmarks of this side.

The rotation of Con O’Callaghan and Ciarán Kilkenny, with the Castleknock clubman now spending more time closer to goal, is starting to really work well and he is currently Dublin’s top-scorer from play (1-13) in this championship.

Nothing showcased Dublin’s deadly intent more than Dean Rock’s eighth minute goal.

In last year’s drawn All-Ireland final against Kerry, Jack McCaffrey got a similar goal. The foundation of that pivotal score was a sublime Brian Howard fetch from a Stephen Cluxton kickout. From the Parnell’s clubman striking the ball to McCaffrey’s shot whizzing to the net took 15 seconds, Rock’s goal last Saturday night was four seconds quicker.

I took a bit of flak from the locals during the week for using the word “boring” to describe the game. To put that in context, what I was saying was that from the perspective of hoping for a real contest of the edge-of-the-seat variety is was totally lacking, but Dublin’s display, in itself, most certainly was not boring. Just to clarify!

Cavan’s victory has ignited their perennial ‘get the Dubs out of Croker’ argument. It’s a nonsense argument really and one Dublin should stay out of, and have for the most part.

This year’s championship is a throwback championship in the sense of straight knockout and Cavan, as Ulster champions, should be both representing their county and their province in GAA headquarters.

I’d hazard a guess that, in private, the majority of the Cavan players would want to play in Croke Park. Why would you not want to play in the country’s premier stadium on the best pitch, especially in winter?

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