The GAA has seen many great and dominating teams throughout the decades. With Mick O’ Dwyer’s and Jack O’Connor’s Kerry sides coming to mind when discussing icon teams.
The Kingdom’s dominance all those years ago is now in the rearview mirror with one team coming to the fold as the pound for pound greatest GAA team of all time.
The present Dublin team have outgrown the amateur roots of the sport, leaving others in the dust of their success.
With an unprecedented seven-in-row on the horizon and a record-shattering ten-in-a-row a real possibility, the only question to ask is;
how does one stop the Dubs?
1. Neutralise Brian Fenton
Everything that comes through Dublin comes from Fenton, his overall impact on the midfield has been instrumental in their success over the past few years. If he is not playing you can see a gap in their quality going forward, when he does play it is almost impossible to stop the man who has not lost a championship game in his career so far.
When Fenton attains possession from the middle of the park, he has the pace, size and power. The way he carries the ball is a skill in itself and his acute ability to ponder into space is the best in the country. Man-marking him out of the game and from kick-outs will hamper him to a certain extent.
Matching him with a player of similar size and stature would help. David Moran in the 2019 All-Ireland Final went toe-to-toe with Fenton, matching him in the tackle and in work rate.
2. Maximise Scoring Opportunities
Any team that faces the Dubs know that if they do not take their chances when presented that they will inevitably be blitzed. To beat Dublin, a forward line especially needs to consistent in front of the goal. Mayo in 2017 had 48 attacks and only scored 17 points. Cillian O’Connor missed some crucial scores to let Dublin of the leash for the rest of the game.
A team needs reliable free-takers, for instance. The last team to beat Dublin was Donegal in 2014. They had Michael Murphy who rarely misses from frees and from open play. Scoring goals is also a big factor in conquering Dublin. Scoring at least three goals was enough for Donegal to beat them. Anything less will almost spell defeat for anyone.
3. Cluxton’s Kickouts
The infamous Cluxton kick-out has been feared and revered for years now. Making teams second-guessing on how the Dubs will progress forward. Dublin usually plays from the back-line with pace, with wing-backs galloping forward to create pressure out-wide.
However, under smart tactics to nullify the kick-out, teams will have to press high, Mayo did it in 2016 and 2017 with enough success to make Dublin lose possession. Mayo’s turn-over success rate from kick-outs was a major factor in why they did so well in those games from the middle of the park, especially in the first half.
You stop Cluxton, you stop Dublin in a major way.
4. The Donegal blueprint
Jim McGuinness was the last manager to dethrone the Dubs at Croke Park. All the way back in 2014 Donegal masterfully and tactically outsmarted Dublin in every way. in 2011 McGuinness’s Donegal played the Dubs with 15 men behind the ball. A defensive onslaught that still led to a defeat. Their second meeting saw his side layout a similar gameplan but when they did win back the ball, they drove at pace with a long-ball kicking gameplan.
Another way McGuinness saw off Dublin was to show no respect. Dublin kills off teams when teams play the way they want to play. By not breaking their defensive shape, it was difficult for Dublin to score freely. Inevitably Dublin grew conscious of this and began to panic, kicking from difficult angles to no avail.
It’s not as simple as putting 15 men behind the ball and not play football, it’s having the right gameplan with enough variety to cause damage. Donegals win in 2014 has often been imitated but never duplicated to the same result.
5. Time will Prevail
Every sport has that one team that is seen as invincible, blown up by the media and pundits alike. They are the greatest team in history, no debate there, but they can be beaten and eventually they will be. Games against Mayo in All-Ireland Finals have shown a chink in the armour, winning on both occasions by a single-point
Eventually, players will leave the panel. Stephen Cluxton, Philly McMahon, Johnny Cooper, Michael Fitzsimons, James McCarthy and Cian O’Sullivan are all coming to the twilight end of their careers, finding replacements of their quality and experience will be difficult.
With Mayo and Kerry fielding young and ambitious sides for the future, time will not be kind to Dublin if they are to sustain their dominance for years to come.
Like all good things, they must and will come to an end.