Five months have now passed since our most recent showdown in last year’s replayed All-Ireland final but tonight our lads get to renew acquaintances with Dublin. The League has less of a life-and-death vibe to it than does the championship and it’s in Round 4 of this year’s NFL Division One campaign that the two counties lock horns this evening. Throw-in at Croke Park is set for 7pm.
We’re coming into this one on a nice little run of form. After that disappointing opening round defeat to Monaghan at the start of last month, we righted ourselves – despite an alarmingly flat first half performance – down in Tralee against Kerry and then followed this up with a facile win over an abject Roscommon back at MacHale Park last weekend.
The four points we’ve garnered from the opening three rounds puts us in second spot in the Division One table going into this weekend’s round of matches. We’re level on points with Dublin but that scutching of the Rossies gives us the edge on Jim Gavin’s men on points difference.
They’ve taken a different approach to gathering the four points they’ve got. Unbeaten in their first three games – undefeated, to be precise, for two whole years now, a run that stretches to 32 matches at this stage – Dublin have won one and drawn the other two matches they’ve played this spring. Their win came on the opening day up in Breffni Park against newly-promoted Cavan, while they had to come from five down late on to nick a draw against Tyrone at Croke Park. They then played out another draw against Ulster opposition, away to Donegal, last weekend.
Dublin have performed with an uncharacteristic air of uncertainty about them so far in this League campaign. Despite this, though, they remain unbeaten, having played against three of the four Ulster sides in the Division. We’ve cut a bit more of a dash ourselves but we’ve also lost one from three and we’ve David Clarke and the Tralee woodwork to thank for the fact that it’s only once we’ve gone under this spring.
If we’re to extend our winning run this evening, we’ll definitely have to end the open door policy we’ve had at the back. If we allow the opposition forward line the freedom to skip unimpeded into the danger zone in the way that we did against Kerry and Roscommon, then we’ll only have ourselves to blame for what will surely happen to us on the scoreboard.
A tighter defence means fewer options in attack, of course, and it’s balancing these contrasting needs that is forever the conundrum for us. One of the real positives the last night against Roscommon, however, was the variety we showed in attack – with the majority of our scores from play and twelve different players posting scores – and we’ll need this unpredictability again tonight if we’re to record a winning total in this clash.
Much has been made in the run-up to this fixture of Dublin’s long-running unbeaten streak, with some pointing to the poetic justice it would involve were we the ones to put an end to it. While this would, for sure, be sweet we need to bear in mind that it’s only the first week in March and it is only the League. A win tonight would do nothing to make up for all those big day defeats we’ve suffered at their hands in recent years. It would, though, represent a small downpayment towards full retribution.
More than anything else, a win this evening would – as Mickey Conroy pointed out yesterday – represent an achievement in its own right, a monkey off our backs, proof that we can beat a team that always has had our number when the chips have truly been down in recent years. There’s no Sam on offer, of course, this evening but a win in this one may, just may, ease our path towards claiming it, if and when tonight’s opposition are barring our path to glory once more come September.
Tonight we have the chance to strike the first blow ahead of such a possible showdown. Let’s take it. Up Mayo!