The clock is ticking on one of the greatest feats in GAA history. Dublin are odds on to win a fourth successive title. But beyond that, can anybody stop them making history and doing five in a row in 2019?
When Jim Gavin was appointed Dublin senior football manager in October 2012, reaction was muted in the capital city. The soft-spoken Round Towers clubman who had led Dublin to an All-Ireland Under-21 title in 2009 was a popular, if slightly underwhelming, choice as replacement for Pat Gilroy.
Gilroy, who had stepped down due to work commitments, was going to be a hard act to follow having led the Blues up the steps of the Hogan Stand in 2011 after a 1-12- to 1-11 win over arch rivals Kerry.
Many questioned if the gentlemanly Gavin, would be able to acquire the ruthless streak necessary to survive in the bear-pit of modern inter-county GAA management. Those questions seem a tad amusing now, as Gavin and his players are masters of all they survey.
Despite Mayo’s defiance and some spirited challenges from the likes of Kerry and Donegal over the past few seasons, the Dublin express shows no sign of slowing down. Worryingly for the chasing pack, the Metropolitans have not been at their brilliant best in recent deciders. Their default survival mechanism was in evidence in the previous two clashes, as they edged out a determined Mayo.
There’s a distinct feeling that Dublin have another gear in them. If that proves to be the case, it’s going to take something really special to eclipse the four in a row-seeking champions.
Dublin’s biggest challenges, however, could well come from within. Can Gavin continue to keep such a large talent pool happy? Competition within the squad is ferocious, with some big personalities in a direct battle for places. However, diminishing that argument is the fact Dublin’s competition within their own ranks will ensure there is no lessening of that insatiable hunger required to deliver Sam Maguire.
The humble Gavin has always stressed the importance of a team ethos. While this mantra is a recurring theme in inter-county management, Gavin walks the walk on this particular party line. No player is deemed indispensable. Diarmuid Connolly, so often viewed as an integral part of Gavin’s plans, was shunted to the side in the latter stages of last season’s championship.
While some of those wounds were self-inflicted, as Connolly was black carded in the semi-final, Gavin was in no rush to reinstate him for the final, electing to let one of Dublin’s star turns do some bench service for the final.
Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion and Rory O’Connell have opted out at various stages over the past few seasons, yet the Dublin bandwagon rolls relentlessly onwards.
The chasing pack on the face of it are making little inroads in closing the gap on Gavin’s runaway train.
Kerry, despite an influx of highly-talented minors and under-21s, seemed alarmingly off the pace in last season’s replayed semi-final loss to Mayo. David Clifford will be an exciting addition to the Kingdom’s senior ranks, but it is likely Eamonn Fitzmaurice is more concerned with 2019 and a date with destiny. Then, if all goes to plan, Kerry will have to derail Dublin’s drive for five. One thing is for certain, all in Kerry will forgive a couple of poor seasons if they can deny the enemy.
Mayo, as ever, look the most likely to stop Dublin, but are finding it almost impossible to get over the line. With their propensity for self-harm showing no signs of abating, will father time finally mow down the gutsy men from the west? Can Andy Moran invoke the spirit of 2017 again? Mayo will need Moran, and a much bigger input from Aidan O’Shea at the very minimum, if they are to finally prevail. The once feared duo no longer seem quite so warrior like.
Tyrone looked as though they might put it up to the Dubs, but their capitulation in last season’s final four encounter puts a huge asterisk against Mickey Harte’s men.
Donegal have the DNA but appear to be in terminal decline. The rest appear to be going nowhere fast.
Galway, Roscommon and Tipperary looked like bright young things, but their form appear to have tapered off after a couple of indifferent seasons.
History now beckons for Gavin and his all-conquering heroes. Are we finally so see the first ever five in a row side?
Cork and Kilkenny (hurling) and Wexford and Cork (football) have all perished at the gates of the Holy Grail.
Has Gavin finally cracked the code to GAA immortality?