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8 June 2006 Edition

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The Matt Treacy Column

Dubs win but look vulnerable as Longford rise to occasion

I wonder would Sigerson Clifford have been inspired to pen an epic ballad on the journey from Longford to Dublin. One to perhaps equal his verses on the 'Ghost Train' that carried Kerry supporters to All Ireland finals in the 1930s and 40s? An ode to the intrepid tribes trundling their way homewards over the central plains to the city of the spire.

We had arrived at the platform in Longford station some hours after the match to find a DART full of beaming Dubs whose rubicund cheeks reflected in equal measure the burning sun of Pearse Park and copious amounts of alcohol. Where the Kerry men of the 1930s had petrol cans full of porter the travelling Dub favours a well known brand of cider and cheap Dutch lager.

What had brought the DART to the midlands was a source of wonder. But nonetheless it was a comforting sight for those among us for whom every trip beyond the two canals is no less an adventure than Marco Polo's encounters with the cunning merchants of the silk road, whose second cousins had a hot dog stand outside the Longford Arms Hotel.

Once we had been embraced by the cocoon of the bright green Dublin train we settled down for a traditional sing-song. Or rather a singing competition between the middle-aged denizens of one carriage and another group whose nucleus appeared to be the under-age section of a well-known Dublin club which shall remain nameless.

The more 'mature' among us eventually succumbed to fatigue and left the floor to the youth. We were regaled with passable versions of 'The Foggy Dew' and other standards interspersed with some bizarre cabaret that might have made even Christopher Isherwood blush. When there was a lull in the singing the vacuum was filled by the boys and girls picking out an unsuspecting passenger who they would point to while chanting the alias of a recently released sex offender. A class act.

Then, like the Venetian explorers of old, members of the party began to succumb to the dreaded beri-beri disease contracted in the swamplands of the Camlin river. Or perhaps it was the warm beer and the cold burgers. A pretty harmless bunch but not the boon companions we would choose should a further expedition prove necessary over the coming weeks. We were disgorged at Connolly where the cavernous halls echoed with one last chorus of that ancient ditty. 'Come On Ye Boys in Blue'. Will we ever tire of it?

For a while last Sunday a trip to another provincial venue appeared to be a distinct possibility as the boys in blue struggled to contain a Longford team that played out of its collective skin. Much vaunted reputations crumbled in the searing heat as the midlanders repeatedly tore through the Dublin defence.

A measure of how well the Longford attack performed is that all six starting forwards scored, as did Peter Foy and James Martin when they were brought on as substitutes. Bernard McElvany, who had a huge game at midfield, also scored a point. Of the Dublin forwards, only Conal Keaney and Bryan Cullen could have been happy with their performance although Declan Lally and Jason Sherlock showed to some effect when brought on.

It was the Dublin backs who appeared most vulnerable but surprisingly the only personnel change made was to bring Peadar Andrews on in place of Paul Griffin. The turning point in the match was when Mark Vaughan scored the only goal after being well placed by Alan Brogan. Other than that he appeared unsettled and out of position.

Luke Dempsey the Longford manager was understandably annoyed with some of the punditry following the match. As he saw it, his team were given little credit for how well they played. Rather, the emphasis had been on how poor Dublin were. Indeed we had the very same conversation with some Longford people in the Anvil after the game. We agreed that it was a case of Longford rising to the occasion rather than the Dubs 'not turning up'.

In truth I had never felt that Dublin were going to lose other than for a brief moment near the end when a Longford attack might have resulted in a goal. That possibly owes less to my prescience than to a certain numbing of the senses in my declining years. A process helped by starting to drink at ten o' clock of a Sunday morning. Besides, it will hopefully be a long Summer and I need to carefully preserve my blood pressure for what will hopefully be more trying occasions. Ciara would certainly have been pleased by my stoic demeanour and stentorian silence had she not decided to give Longford a miss. She may return for the final if certain conditions are fulfilled.

The more optimistic of the Dublin fancy will put this in the context of less than convincing opening displays by all of the leading contenders, other than Galway. I don't altogether buy into the theory that teams have to pace themselves to last the distance but it does have a certain merit. That merit is increased by the presence of the back door which lessens the pressure on those with higher aspirations.

Certainly Tyrone and Armagh have appeared over the past two years to have consciously begun on a low key. There is even the theory I have alluded to before that both Kernan and Harte are not in the least worried about the prospect of having to journey through the qualifiers.

Be that as it may - and I don't really buy into it - I can safely say that had Dublin exited the Leinster championship last weekend it would have been a devastating blow to what still remains a fragile collective ego. And one that I doubt they would recover from in order to be a force later on.

Ulster may be a redoubt of dogged cuteness where teams are happy to allow short term style take a back seat to long term substance. But then both Tyrone and Armagh have already been there and won Sam. This Dublin team has not and cannot afford the luxury of playing the long game. If they are to win the All Ireland it will be after the fashion of their illustrious forebears. Throwing caution to the wind.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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