CALM HEADS AND concentration will be the difference between winning and losing Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final, says Dublin defender Cian O’Sullivan.
As defending champions, Pat Gilroy’s men have been roundly scrutinized and criticized this summer, painted as weary and lethargic for failing to replicate the form which carried them through to the promised land last September.
O’Sullivan and co give the impression that they are keeping their heads while all around are losing theirs, but the Kilmacud Crokes man knows that another sub-par performance against Mayo will surely be the end of the road.
It hasn’t been a case of Dublin not trying or not showing their hand, he says. They just haven’t been good enough so far.
“There’s no denying we haven’t put in the full performances that people expected from us the last couple of games. Defensively the last day [against Laois] our work rate was pretty good, but in the forwards we weren’t clicking.
“We came through the games against Laois and Meath, and we have been working very hard the last few weeks to prepare as best we can for this game, but if there isn’t an improvement there Mayo are definitely a team that will put us away.”
It’s a game that many expect Dublin to win, not least the bookmakers who have priced them up as three-point favourites to set up a decider against Jim McGuinness’s Donegal on 23 September.
Dublin have been here before though, O’Sullivan recalls, and they panicked. Now the hope is that he and his team-mates have learned from the mistakes of the past and that their maturity shines through on Sunday.
“The one that stands out for me was [the quarter-final defeat against] Kerry, 2009. There is another one in there: [losing the semi-final to] Cork, 2010. We had the winnings of that game probably and let it slip. But against Kerry we conceded 1-3 in the first few minutes and the heads dropped.”
There was no panic last year, most notably as Dublin stared down the Kingdom in the final minutes of the All-Ireland final. “Yeah, but it only takes one tiny collapse in concentration for that fault,” O’Sullivan says anxiously.
“You can’t rest on the fact that it’s been good for the last year and a half or so. It’s something you always need to be conscious of going into the big games.”
In the past, those big games were played out under the shadow of a solitary All-Ireland title in almost 30 attempts. Taking that final step last autumn was of huge importance — as indicated by the interminable celebrations which followed — but winning has changed the whole equation for Dublin football.
Now it’s on to a new and different challenge.
“That’s done and dusted. You’re not going to completely forget about it, but we said back in January when we started training that it was a new year, a new season.
“We had a goal last year and we achieved that. Now we have a new goal this year, and we want to achieve that again.”