NOT EVEN THE most blue-eyed Dub would try to convince you that the All-Ireland champions have been at the height of their powers so far this summer. After the famine came the banquet feast of last September — and October and November and the months that followed — so it’s no surprise that second-season syndrome has left Pat Gilroy’s men looking a little lethargic and heavy-legged at times.
Still, here Dublin are, in a third successive All-Ireland semi-final and just two steps away from keeping Sam in the capital. Their journey to this point hasn’t wowed in the same way that Donegal’s has but with Sunday’s clash against Mayo fast approaching, Gilroy is anxious to accentuate the positives.
“People are entitled to analyse it whatever way they want,” he said on Monday. “The only reason we are still here is because we have worked hard. We have made it difficult for teams as well but teams are making it difficult for us as well and you have to live with that. That’s the modern game.
“It’s up to us to get a little bit better at the forward end. It’s the main area for us to improve and to keep the same work ethic that we have. Particularly in the last two games, we’d be very happy with a lot of what we did. It’s just up front we need to be a bit better.”
Dublin drifted in and out of both the Leinster semi-final against Wexford and the provincial decider against Meath but could take some solace in their scattered periods of dominance. It was reassuring that the higher gears of last season did still exist if needed.
The quarter-final win against Laois and the laboured three-point margin wasn’t quite as encouraging but such tough days at the office are part and parcel of any championship run, Gilroy says.
I felt before the last game that there were signs that things were going to go well for us, particularly up front. It just didn’t happen but there have been a lot of positive things in the last couple of weeks that you would just say ‘yeah.’
Laois tried to do the same thing against us last year but they were just a bit stronger this year. By the time they got to us this year they were fitter. We got them early in the Leinster championship last year but they played a similar way, they were just better at doing it.
It’s a fact of life that you have to play against those type of teams. We haven’t been brilliant, there’s no question. But defensively we have been quite good.
Kick-outs have been a particular area of concern, as Stephen Cluxton’s frequent switch to short deliveries has caused as many problems as it solved. It’s an area that Mayo are likely to focus on, Gilroy adds, so it’s imperative that Dublin get it right on Sunday.
“If I was playing against Dublin that’s what I’d do. But I think Mayo’s main real dominance the last day was in the middle of the field. They just crushed Down eventually in the middle of the field and if they do that against us, we will be in trouble too.
“If you are beaten at midfield you are under severe pressure so it will be a big ask for us to get that right. We have done a lot of work to try and deal with it.”
At the back of Gilroy’s mind — and the minds of any of the Hill 16 faithful who travelled out west that day — lingers the memory of Castlebar in March. As All-Ireland champions the embarrassment of a 12-point league defeat, 0-20 to 0-8, is not something that is easily forgotten. That scoreline is more frightening than any talk or tactical concerns and, once bitten, Dublin know that they cannot be off their game again.
It was and it’s a good indicator and warning to us that if our intensity is anything like that day, we will get wiped out of it here. We haven’t revisited that place in terms of intensity since, thank God, so I certainly don’t think it will be a match like that.