2 July 2009 Edition
More than a game BY MATT TREACY
Historic and entertaining Antrim victory
THE Antrim footballers find themselves now in a very similar position to the Dublin hurlers. Both have reached a final for the first time in a long time but both now face formidable opposition. I have to admit that I watched the Antrim-Cavan game with every expectation of being bored, as has been the case with most football matches this year including Dublin’s win over Meath.
Instead, viewers were treated to one of the better games so far, although the entertainment value was possibly enhanced by the knowledge that there was a possible shock on the cards. What was more interesting however was the manner in which Antrim played. They are astonishingly fit for a team that has just emerged from Division Four which had a high quotient of fairly one sided matches which makes championship preparation difficult.
Obviously Antrim have compensated for that and it was clear that Cavan were taken aback by their pace, particularly in the counter attack and Antrim, unlike some other Ulster counties, were able to change from defence to offence with an alacrity unmatched by any other I have seen this year with, dareisayit, the exceptions of Tyrone and Armagh.
Cavan did not help their own cause by the poor showing and erratic temperament of some key players and their massive over dependence on Seanie Johnston was ruthlessly exposed. Tyrone await, which is a dubious enough reward but Antrim are not without hope, slim as it might seem, and such surprises are more likely in football where physicality, heart and even luck often play a bigger part than in hurling. No matter what happens however Antrim will still be in the latter stages of the competition; the last eight in the unlikely event of beating the All Ireland champions, and the last 16 if they lose.
Dublin’s victory over Westmeath reminded some with not a little trepidation of a similar tanking of Wexford last year. It was an awesome enough display and enjoyable to watch if only to admire the efficiency with which the poor Westies were put to the sword. There was not even the consolation of such a huge margin being put over on one of the lesser liked Leinster teams!
Dublin will hardly beat Kildare by anything like 27 points. I am prepared to put money on it! In all seriousness though given Kildare’s own comfortable, on the scoreboard, path to the final, there promises to be little between the two. Rivalry was intense in the 1990s and the early part of the new millennium but has faded since with the eclipse of the flourbags.
Kieran McGeeney has changed that around rapidly and this team has a toughness that was not always associated with Kildare sides who some believed had been bullied by Dublin and others in the 1990s. No-one will bully this team who have all the physical and mental attributes that one might expect from a team overseen by a protégé of Joe Kernan.
Dublin likewise might be beaten in footballing terms but are formidable in the more traditional sectors. So that promises to be a pretty full on encounter I imagine with probably nothing like the sort of scorelines posted by either in their last two games.
But of course the real Leinster final is on Sunday when Dublin meet with the Cats for the first time in a final since 1991, a day when Dublin might well have won had a late chance not hit the post and indeed had they actually believed in their heart of hearts that they could actually win.
Ironically now they probably do have the mental belief but any objective assessment would have to conclude that beating Kilkenny is currently beyond them in hurling terms. Yes, they put it up to the Cats in Kilkenny in the league and were leading coming up to full time but that will mean nothing on Sunday.
Babs Keatings’ condescending remark that Kilkenny took it easy on Dublin and others reflects other issues but it is certainly the case that Cody’s team step up several levels when it comes to the Summer. Their battle readiness and mettle has already been given a stern test by Galway and they overcame it with a modicum of ease in the end.
A good day for Dublin would be to stay in the game until the closing stages and keep the scoreboard respectable. Not too many teams have been able to do that in Croke Park and not for a while which puts the enormity of the task facing Anthony Daly’s young team in proper perspective. A bad day would be one on which they freeze, fail to live up to their undoubted potential and concede goals from their own errors. A day in other words like the one the under-21s had two years ago in the final against Galway.
A great day, well we won’t fantasise about that one .....
The main thing is for this team to acquit themselves well and keep their eye on the prize, which in realistic terms is their place in the All Ireland quarter finals the last week of July. Then, depending on who Dublin face, we can begin perchance to dream.