The All-Ireland Football champions, Dublin, start
the defence of their title on Saturday evening in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, as rank outsiders Carlow prepare to spring a massive upset.
There are many metaphors that spring to mind when you see the two counties involved in this Leinster SFC Quarter Final but there is little doubt that the one at the forefront is the old adage of David vs Goliath.
Dublin, who have won the last two All-Ireland Football Championship titles, make their way from the familiar, comfortable confines of Croke Park to lock horns with Carlow, who won their first game in the Leinster Championship since 2011 by beating Wexford on a scoreline of 2-17 to 2-13.
This result came as a surprise to the GAA public as Wexford seemed to be on an upward trajectory with Séamus ‘Banty’ Mcenaney at the helm, but hey, who said sport isn’t full of surprises?
The ‘Dubs’ haven’t played since their League Final defeat to Kerry back in April and will be determined to prove to the rest of the country that their defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals was just a bump on what had been a smooth 36-game unbeaten journey prior to this.
Having won 4 of the last 6 All-Irelands Jim Gavin’s charges enter the game as clear favourites and it is easy to see why as they arguably possess the strongest squad currently in the game. New gems were unearthed such as Templeogue Synge Street’s Niall Scully and Na Fianna’s Conor McHugh throughout the league campaign. They have added an extra beat to what is an already potent Dublin attack featuring the dangerous duo of Kevin Mcmanamon and Bernard Brogan. Scully’s link play in particular has been fantastic. Whether both will feature from the start remains to be seen.
Worryingly for Dublin, the whispers continue to surround Michael Darragh Mac Auley’s fitness for the upcoming Championship as it is widely believed that he has ruptured his cruciate ligament. His tenacity, fitness and strong ball-carrying ability will be missed by Dublin if the rumours prove to be true.
While it is hard to envisage anything other than a win for Dublin on Saturday evening, Turlough O’Brien’s men will want to lay down a marker when they take to the field against Dublin.
Speaking to the media this week, Carlow wing-forward, Eoghan Ruth asserts this point.
“You’re not going to stand off them, you’re not going to pay them any respect in those terms. They’re humans.’’
It is quite similar to the film, Rocky 4, when Rocky faced the Russian man-mountain, Ivan Drago, in the boxing ring in Moscow and cut his eye with a punch which led his trainer to proclaim: ‘See, he’s not a machine, he’s a man!’, Carlow will be hoping to prove that this Dublin team aren’t an unbeatable machine, rather, they’re a team of men just like any other team.
“I’m sure they hurt as well if you hit them with a shoulder. I’m sure they’re not going to catch every ball. We’ll probably live off scraps but physically we’re going to compete with them.’’
Carlow will set up extremely defensively as they attempt to match the Dubs and it is likely that it will be corner-forward, Paul Broderick who will be kept up front on his own. Expect the other 14 players to filter back and mark space between their 45 metre line and their goal, limiting the supply to the likes of Bernard Brogan and Dean Rock. It is likely that they will concede territory to Dublin by letting Dublin keeper, Steven Cluxton, go short on his kick-outs.
They may have more joy if they make Dublin go long on the kick-out as Carlow possess Brendan Murphy in midfield, a player who would grace any county team. The Rathvilly man will relish the test against some of the game’s elite, a prospect that has occurred far too sporadically throughout his Carlow career.
Dublin’s supreme conditioning and physicality around the middle with Dia rmuid Connolly, James McCarthy and the clever Ciarán Kilkenny should see them boss possession and gather the many breaks that will occur.
The bulk of Carlow’s scoring prowess falls on the shoulders of Paul Broderick. The Tinryland forward has top scored for Carlow this year and helped himself to a haul of 0-10 against Wexford in the previous round. However, expect his supply to be limited in Portlaoise with Dublin setting up with Cian O’Sullivan as a sweeper. It is probable that the returning Jonny Cooper will have the task of man-marking him.
Of the 2-13 Carlow conceded against Wexford the last day, 10 of those points were frees, this highlights the fact that the Carlow defence will need to improve their tackling for Saturday as the eagle-eyed Dean Rock generally doesn’t miss.
All in all, it looks to be a routine win for Jim Gavin’s troops on Saturday night as they will look to give some of the younger players some Senior Championship experience, blow off the cobwebs and set their sights on the next round.