It’s rare that we get a championship season like the one we have waiting in the wings.
Dublin stand on the brink of etching their names into the annals of GAA history. If they complete the five-in-a-row they will surely go down as the greatest in Gaelic Games history.
Kilkenny hurlers attempted the feat in 2010 only to come unstuck against a Tipperary side who had been knocking on the door for a few seasons.
Before that it was the Kerry footballers of 1982 when Seamus Darby scored the most dramatic of goals to give Offaly a third All-Ireland football crown at the expense of a seemingly unbeatable Kingdom side.
Before them, Cork hurlers (1945), Kerry (1933) and Wexford (1919) all attempted to land the five-in-a-row but fell short.
No team has done it yet and as this year’s competition draws closer and closer the question that’s on everybody’s lips is; Will Dublin will be the first?
They are the undoubted favourites despite the fact their league campaign didn’t go as smooth as expected and three league defeats have left many wondering: Are the Dubs vulnerable heading into the ‘drive-for-five’?
You’ll get a different answer depending on who you talk to but former Tyrone star, Owen Mulligan thinks they are vulnerable heading into the 2019 season.
Speaking to members of the media this week, the Paddy Power GAA Ambassador cited Dublin’s full-back line as a weak spot that teams have exploited.
“I think they are, it showed in the full-back line. Comer last year in the league for 40 minutes destroyed them with the high ball. (Cathal) McShane, high ball. I think they’re a bit rocky.
“For the first 15 minutes in the All-Ireland final, Tyrone rocked them. It’s how you sustain that pressure, the first 15 minutes won’t beat them, you have to sustain that pressure for the full game. Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone are the teams that can do that but it’s all to do with belief as well.”
“Dublin’s the team to beat, there’s no doubt about that, they’re an exceptional team with an exceptional manager. If they do five-in-a-row, they’re the best team ever in the GAA.”
Former Kerry defender Aidan O’Mahony stopped short of branding them as vulnerable but conceded that all the pressure is on Jim Gavin’s side and that the gap has indeed closed between themselves and the chasing pack.
“There is pressure on Dublin but Jim Gavin knows he has a panel of players that if one isn’t pulling his weight, there is someone else who will.
“I think it has (gotten closer). Teams have realised now that you need to go man-for-man with Dublin. Putting two and three behind the ball will only last so long.
“It’s about training lads to go toe-to-toe with them. Last year, Paul Mannion stuck out for me in the Tyrone game, tracking back into his own corner-back position.
“That’s what they have at the moment, lads who will go the well for you again and again.
“People say it gets harder and harder every year and they might take their eye off it: they won’t, because if they do there’s someone else who will take their jersey off them. Plus, it’s a five-in-a-row and they’ll all want to play in it.
“If every team were thinking that Dublin will win the five-in-a-row, they wouldn’t bother training. They might need a bit of an off-day, but I think they are catchable.”
Vulnerability, pressure, closing gaps; these are all terms that would suggest Dublin have their backs to the wall coming into the championship. In truth, we’ve seen nothing really concrete to suggest that anyone is capable of yet again foiling the famous ‘drive-for-five’.
With the experimental rule changes that were trialled throughout the league, it’s hard to imagine Jim Gavin coaching this Dublin side to use alternative rules when they won’t come into effect for such a pivotal season.
Therefore, it would go a long way to explaining why teams found it easier to expose them and with the news now confirmed that Rory O’Carroll has returned to the panel this further reinforces the idea that they will not be beaten in 2019.
Despite their dominance, it’s a fair assessment to say that they are weakest in the full-back line.
However, the return of a three-time All-Ireland champion with two All-Star awards would seem to suggest that the hole has been plugged.
Finally, as Aidan O’Mahony alluded to, Dublin have a squad filled with players who are prepared to go to the well time and time again in order to keep that jersey.
None of the chasing pack have shown us that they are ready to beat Dublin in the white heat of championship football.
Whilst Monaghan, Kerry & Tyrone all defeated them this year it’s important to note two of those defeats came against a wintered Dublin side and the defeat to Tyrone came following a Dublin performance we are extremely unlikely to see again.
Mayo may have won the league but they crumbled in Croke Park against Dublin and their defeat of Kerry will have done more for the Kingdom than it would have done for James Horan’s side.
As the 2019 championship looms it’s time to stick the neck out and say… It’s Dublin’s world and we are all just living in it…