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big task It’s not a respray job with Dublin, it now looks like a rebuild - Ciarán Whelan


Dublin senior football manager Dessie Farrell

Dublin senior football manager Dessie Farrell

Dublin senior football manager Dessie Farrell

Maybe there will be a bit more bark to the old Leinster Championship dog this summer than was anticipated?

Up until last weekend, the portrayal of this championship was one of the predictability of a Dublin v Kerry All-Ireland decider – based on last weekend’s display against Wexford the Dubs have far more immediate concerns, beginning with their provincial semi-final against Meath.

While I stated last week that I felt Dublin were not likely to make any major statement of intent and that this summer could be something of a slow-burner, I didn’t think it would be that slow.

In his interview with DubsTV after the game, Dessie Farrell described the first-half showing of his side as “shocking”, indeed it was.

Massive credit, though, has to go to the Wexford players and management for their attitude and application.

They, and not Dublin, set the tone and terms of the game from the outset. They had a solid shape to their defensive game and were hungry, brave and committed to the breaking ball.

The hosts played with a physical edge that had a few Dublin players teetering towards uneasy in the first 20 minutes or so especially.

From a Dublin perspective, the basic scoring stats do not make for great reading – only 15 points in total, only three points from play from the starting forward unit, a 20-minute gap between Dublin’s first two scores from play.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be totally shocked?

Dublin’s play lacked energy, tempo and direction. Perhaps it can be filed under ‘one of those days’ when some key players, who have played on many huge occasions, just didn’t get motoring and no one really took on the driving role of igniting the team.

While much attention in the aftermath to the game has focused on the absence of Stephen Cluxton, a few other aspects of Dublin’s play and team selection went under the radar.

There was a lack of urgency to their play, very few support runners and line-breakers. The forward division didn’t not really click as a unit. A very un-Dublin-like performance.

In terms of selection, the Dublin management was forced into improvisation by injuries and absentees.

Compare the starting defence and goalkeeper to that which began last December’s All-Ireland final victory over Mayo – Stephen Cluxton (‘stepped away’), Jonny Cooper, Eoin Murchan and John Small are all currently injured while Robbie McDaid went off injured late in the first half. In total, only nine of last year’s starting 15 began last Sunday against Wexford.

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While Dublin have carried out a very successful series of tweaks to their panel in recent years and still kept their flag implanted at the summit, there is more of a rebuild feel to Dublin at the moment than a respray job.

Over the past four championships the following have retired/decided to step away – Denis Bastick, Paul Flynn, Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly, Darren Daly, Jack McCaffrey, Eoghan O’Gara, Paddy Andrews, Paul Mannion, Michael Darragh Macauley, Cian O’Sullivan and Cluxton, while the current status of the likes of Rory O’Carroll, Kevin McManamon and Eric Lowndes is unclear, but the signs are they may not be part of the plans now.

Is this an over-reaction?

I’d argue that it isn’t. In my opinion, it is unrealistic to suffer all those departures and not to be far more vulnerable to the knockout blow.

Put it this way, I don’t think we’ll be reading any Dublin North v Dublin South; Dublin ‘A’ v ‘B’ selections to illustrate their strength in depth. Currently it’s not there.

Dublin’s difficulty will be others’ opportunity, but it’s an opportunity also for players such as Seán MacMahon, Paddy Small, Seán Bugler, Tom Lahill, Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne and Collie Basquel, among others, to really step up to the plate. From Dublin’s perspective, they need to be thinking that ‘now is my time’.

With regard to this weekend’s action, I don’t anticipate we’ll learn too much about two of the main All-Ireland challengers – Kerry and Mayo. I’d expect both to win comfortably and progress to their provincial finals with a bounce in their step.

However, the Cork v Limerick game will be more interesting. Cork will get over their opponents but I’m not convinced the Rebels are fully in sync with how they want to play the game.

They have had some very impressive footballers on recent U-20 teams, particularly from midfield forward, but they’ll need more time to make a greater impression.

Ulster champions, Cavan, put their provincial title on the line against Tyrone. Under their new management, the Red Hands looked like they were trying to play a front-foot game but their defeat to Kerry in the league will have been a shock to the system.

Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher will not have had a huge amount of time to address all the shortcomings Kerry exploited that day, but I’d still fancy them to overcome Cavan, despite the fact that Mickey Graham has a habit of getting a right twist out of his teams, county and club, at championship time.

The game of the weekend could prove to be the meeting of Donegal and Derry. I’ve been impressed by Derry since the start of the league and they made short work of gaining promotion and then securing the Division 3 title.

This will be a major step up in class, though, for them, but they have the players to cause Donegal problems while their manager Rory Gallagher knows the Donegal strategy, style and individual players very well from his tenure in their management team and that could be worth a few points.

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