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comment Never mind six... Dubs closer to seven up after Kerry's multi-faceted meltdown


Dessie’s Destiny?: The early exit of Kerry has made it more likely that Dessie Farrell will continue Dublin’s reign of success for a sixth year running – and maybe longer. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

Dessie’s Destiny?: The early exit of Kerry has made it more likely that Dessie Farrell will continue Dublin’s reign of success for a sixth year running – and maybe longer. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

Dessie’s Destiny?: The early exit of Kerry has made it more likely that Dessie Farrell will continue Dublin’s reign of success for a sixth year running – and maybe longer. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

Mark Keane's surreal knockout blow has reinforced one of the great ironies of this 'back to the future' senior football championship.

The theory goes that any meaningful pretender can topple a red-hot favourite in a one-off contest, and Cork have duly proved it in the most jaw-dropping fashion.

But once the whistle sounded seconds later and the frenzy subsided and your logical brain clicked back into functional mode, you couldn't help but ask: "So, who's going to stop the seven-in-a-row?"

There is no doubt that Cork footballers and their prodigal wizard from Oz have turned championship 2020 on its head. But, in doing so, have they also turned it into another Sky Blue procession?

Dessie Farrell won't buy that presumptuous talk. Nor, on the initial evidence of Saturday night in Portlaoise, will his players.

And that makes it all the more probable that they will keep the cannister.

Consider this: even if Dublin were to suffer the multi-faceted meltdown produced by Kerry on Sunday (the tactical conservatism, the sloppy free-taking, the fuzzy decision-making, the shocking game management) the distinct likelihood is that they would still retain the Delaney Cup for a 10th year running.

Laois cannot hope to get close this Sunday. Kildare or a visibly improving Meath may dare to dream, but you cannot ignore that they were, respectively, 15 and 16 points adrift of Dublin in last year's Leinster campaign. That gap cannot - will not - close in one outlandish swoop.

So, let's take it as read that Dublin make it to December. Who can stop them then? The two most likely contenders are Donegal and Mayo. The only trouble is that one - or both - could have gone the way of Kerry by Sunday evening.

It's conceivable that Donegal could lose to Armagh if Kieran McGeeney's array of gifted forwards produce one of those special days.

There is an even greater chance that Galway could do a number on Mayo. This despite (or maybe because of) the still-raw memory of their recent horror show league derby in Tuam.

Ten days ago, before a championship ball had been kicked and if you were feeling generous, you would have named five alternatives to Dublin for this year's title. They included four dark horses (Donegal, Tyrone, Galway and Mayo) plus one apparent thoroughbred (Kerry).

Two of them are gone; a third will definitely join them this weekend. The field is shrinking fast.

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Yet all this talk of rivals is predicated on the notion of Dublin slippage. Could it still happen? Yes. Could fickle fate - in the guise of an injury crisis or a Covid outbreak or even a last-minute Seamus Darby-meets-Mark Keane moment - conspire against them. Potentially; it has been that type of year, after all.

But here's the thing: if Dublin had played Cork even in that biblical Páirc Uí Chaoimh tempest, there would have been no last-second lifeline in the first place.

It's unfair to compare Cork to Westmeath because, for myriad reasons, the former always had the potential to push Kerry into an awkward place. This was never going to be the case for Westmeath last Saturday.

And still, from the get-go, Dublin were in the zone.

It could be gleaned from their very first point, when Brian Fenton arrowed a low, diagonal sideline ball into the scoring zone.

There - sharp as a whippet - was Dean Rock, anticipating the pass and getting there a millisecond ahead of his marker, Boidu Sayeh, and just as quickly shooting over his shoulder before another defender's hand could make the block.

Before you knew it, Dublin were already 0-4 to 0-0 ahead. That's how long it took for the first-half agenda to be established; one where Westmeath's frazzled kick-out was put under incessant pressure, where Dublin forwards pressed and harried without the ball just as energetically as they moved with O'Neill in hand.

Afterwards, Farrell was Gavinesque in his carefully studied assessment of the game, but two answers stood out. "We were well focused and heads in the game," he said at one point.

Later still, he remarked: "The application of the players was the most pleasing for me. It is a very different time and different championship. Everyone needs to challenge themselves to be in a position to come with their A game."

A different time but, thus far, no sign of a different Dublin.

They aren't flawless. Farrell isn't blessed with deep resources in defence and the issue of who ultimately partners Fenton at midfield remains an open question.

What Jack McCaffrey used to offer is irreplaceable. Brian Howard had to settle for a cameo role against Westmeath. Fellow All-Star Paul Mannion, on his way back from injury, stayed on the bench. You suspect that Farrell may need Howard and Mannion for much longer when it matters.

But if Dublin's focus and application remain on the money, you simply cannot back against them.

It is now six years since they suffered a championship nightmare on a par with Kerry's on Sunday.

Whether you blame tactical naivety or complacency or defensive dereliction for that Donegal defeat in 2014, you can be assured that Dublin under Gavin never stood indicted to that galling extent ever again.

On Saturday, Farrell won his first championship match, but the team he inherited hasn't lost in 38.

The prospect of that reaching 42 has never looked stronger.

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