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2017 Dublin Senior Football Championship Preview

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Parnell’s Vs Fingal Raven’s

It’s difficult to assess Raven’s without having seen them in over a year. Almost relegated to Division 3 before going straight back up to Division 1 the next season under Colm Nally, they appear to be settled in Division 2 now.

Which is significantly better off than Parnell’s who’ve been in free fall the last two years. The only mystery is how they managed to win their first round last year in the midst of two years almost without a single league victory. Perhaps they can pull a stronger hand together for championship. That they won their first game of Division 3 suggests the free fall might be over and they may be of Division 3 calibre.

Raven’s golden generation of Brennan twins and co has passed and when their second golden generation including Niall Tormey, Keith Kavanagh and Darren Daly goes, the quality may not be coming through to replace them. For now, however, they should have more than enough to get past Parnell’s.

St Sylvester’s Vs St. Anne’s

Sylvester’s will be chomping at the bit to get a bit of a championship run this year. What some might have considered a surprise defeat in the last 16 to Castleknock last year, and the serious shock of the 2015 first round, going down to St. Pat’s Palmerston, they’re surely a frustrated bunch.

St. Anne’s will probably be the first to acknowledge that reaching the quarters in 2015 didn’t equate to being a top eight side as they didn’t have to beat a single Division 1 side to get there, and they were comprehensively beaten by Clontarf when they did.

Saying that, they did give Plunkett’s/ER a bit of a scare in 2014 with a stern defensive performance, and if they could muster the likes up again, it’s not beyond reason that they could cause a surprise.

Saying that, their inability to get into Division 1 in recent years probably gives a fair indication of the gap between themselves and the consistently mid table Division 1 Sylvester’s.

The shock is unlikely, though not beyond reason.

Skerries Harps vs Fingallians

If there’s a potential shock in the first round, this is it. At a glance, it’s a Division 1 side who reached the quarters last year against a Division 3 side.

However, Fingallians came second in Division 3 last year with an average winning margin of ten points, and the Olaf’s side who beat them in the replay of the play-offs currently sit top of Division 2 with three wins from three. If Fingallians had won that play-off, they’d surely be in the top half of the Division 2 table this season.

It must be said, they’re an erratic beast. They murdered Scoil Uí Chonail, high in Division 2, in the Inter Championship last year, yet bundled over the line against the now Division 4 St. Finian’s. Get into their flow and they can run amok, at least against Division 3 and 2 opposition, but get under their skin, and they can struggle.

As it is, the one thing they’re probably not very adept at is breaking down blanket defences, which Skerries set up brilliantly last year.

The sheer pace and clever running of Castleknock made them look poor in the end, but ‘Knock had the perfect cocktail to exploit their style. That’s not to mention the absence of talisman, Harry Dawson, on the night.

Because it’s not beyond reason that the pace of Donie Keane, Ciarán McLoughlin and Paul Flynn in the middle third could get the run on them, on the bookies odds, I make a bet on Fingallians the one good bet in the round. Key, if they do pull it off will be if Danny Campion is given orders to, and succeeds in holding Harry Dawson. He’s held Cormac Costello and Gerry Seavers, so he has the capacity to do it.

That doesn’t mean I think they’ll win. Just that they’ve a better than 30% chance. All things considered, Skerries should still be too strong, and their efficient blanket defence could completely stifle Fingallians.

Na Fianna vs Naomh Olaf

There’s a slightly intriguing under current to this one. St. Olaf’s, having just missed out on promotion to Division 2 year after year, they’re now blazing a trail that they’re there.

Na Fianna on the other hand have been the perennial under achiever in recent years. Two heavy defeats to Vincent’s and being humbled by TSS, their minor success over the last years hasn’t been remotely reflected at adult level. However, new manager, Phil McElwee will be hoping to change that.

Now, on previous championship form, looking at how Olaf’s are motoring, you might fancy a surprise here. Especially considering their three out of three league start, and play-off win last year was without Davey Byrne.

Byrne’s game controlling probably won’t be sacrificed to mark Conor McHugh, so whoever that challenge falls to, it will be key if Olaf’s are to prevail. If somebody can achieve that, if Byrne can dominate the half back line, if Colin Doyle faces Adam Caffrey at 6/11 and Caffrey doesn’t track his marauding runs, and if Conor Haskins, who scored eight points from play off Paul Flynn at midfield, in December, is on an unathletic midfielder, or otherwise dominates midfield, it’s not beyond reason there could be a shock on the cards. Olaf’ only lost 2-12 to 0-12 to Boden last year.

And you don’t know what a new manager will bring for Na Fianna, so if all is not in order on Mobhi Road, maybe there could be a surprise on the cards.

The thing is, however, that McElwee was the man at the helm for a number of those Na Fianna minor successes. Coming in now to manage a team full of players he has won county championships with, my suspicion is that he’ll push Na Fianna back into a top eight side, at least, which on raw ability they should be.

Man marker extraordianaire Jonny Cooper at the back, Tomás Brady potentially to control things from centre back, Caffery spraying passes from centre forward and Conor McHugh, one of the best club forwards in Dublin up front, they have the back bone of a serious team, with minor championship winners galore around them.

Their lack of a non-Dub influx compared to the other contenders is possibly too much to be genuine championship contenders, but if McElwee’s history is anything to go by, and he recognises the nuanced value of players like Emile Mullan, chances are they won’t be far off the pack.

Assuming that to be the case, they should have too much for Olaf’s.

Clontarf Vs Thomas Davis

Davis have been just a bit short in the first round each of the last three years, and considering the fact that they’ve been unseeded for the last three years, they’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the big guns in the first round each year. Again, they’ll be looking at a game they’ll feel they can win from the unseeded end of the draw.

Clontarf’s semi-final berth in 2015 probably flattered them a bit, but their fifteen point to 1-3 defeat to Jude’s last year is a grossly distorted reflection too. Until Castleknock ran them into the ground late on in the semis, every side had serious trouble breaking down that Jude’s defence.

Davis, last time I saw them, had a number of methodical game controller types and were vociferous under breaks, but lacked pace on the whole. Clontarf have pace coming out their ears.

Saying that, Clontarf were eaten on kick-outs by Jude’s last year (again, so were Croke’s). On the whole, especially if Jack McCaffrey can field, I’d fancy that unless Davis spring a number of young guns I haven’t seen, Clontarf’s overall pace should be too much for them.

The one exception to this is if both sides go long on kick-outs. That being the case, I’d expect the grittier Davis to dominate breaks from which they have a platform to win the game.

All said and done tough, I’d fancy Clontarf.

Whitehall/Colmcille’s Vs St. Mary’s Saggart

I haven’t seen Saggart in over five years, so really, I can only speculate based on results, which haven’t pretty in terms of recent year’s championships. In reality, they probably represent as good an example as any of why a 32 team senior championship simply doesn’t make sense anymore. At least they’ve been spared playing a top eight side. So what can they hope for? Surprise Whitehall so they can lose out of the B championship and maybe play Ballymun in the next round?

In reality, that’s probably not going to happen. Whitehall aren’t up and coming in the sense that Castelknock have been, but their minor sides have been decidedly better in recent years than preceding years, on average. It’s no coincidence that their results have been better over the last year or two.

Again, with Cormac Costello their talisman, they like to run at space. When they create it, they can be devastating. When Skerries deprived them of that space last year, they had no answers.

If Saggart can manoeuvre to deprive them of that space, they might be in with a chance, but previous results suggest that they’ll be too far off the mark.

Castleknock vs Templeogue/Synge Street

For me, this is the second juiciest tie in the round, one of only two with two sides who’ve reached the quarters in the last three years.

TSS pulled off the coup of the 2014 championship by beating Na Fianna and reaching the quarters, while Castleknock pulled off the coups of the 2016 championship by beating Plunkett’s/Er and Jude’s. They’ll quite possibly be reeling from the fact that too many people haven’t given them the credit they’ll feel they deserve. They may even feel I’m one of them.

For me, they’re fifth in Dublin, behind Vincent’s, Ballymun, Ballyboden and Croke’s. For me, they slayed the sixth and seventh sides last year in Plunkett’s and Jude’s. Of course, if they hadn’t beaten Plunkett’s/Er, we’d probably be saying Plunkett’s are the third best side in Dublin!

Noteworthy as TSS win was against Na Fianna, the likelihood that they’ll ever again play a senior championship match where the opposition will allow Eoghan O’Gara to sit isolated in a one on one attack again, are slim. And the tactical tinkerer, Dave Cullen, who manufactured that methodical display has moved on since.

Still, we can’t look past the fact that they have Dennis Bastick at midfield, who is still worth a good 60 minutes at club level and Dublin forwards, Niall Scully and O’Gara, up front.

However, the busy bee like nature of Castleknock’s highly athletic side with their Cork/Conor Counihan-esque style of running off the shoulder at 45 degree angles, will prove too much for most sides to keep with them for sixty minutes.

The likelihood is that Tom Quinn will be put back to mark O’Gara, where his fair but obstructive style will most likely create fireworks, but most significantly, could keep O’Gara quiet. Especially so if Castleknock get men behind the ball like last year.

Then Graham Hannigan is athletically a carbon copy of Scully and is the perfect man to sit on him. That leaves Shane Boland and a split shift of Ciarán Kilkenny and James Sherry in the middle/up front, and Castleknock cover the angles every which way look.

This all assumes that they haven’t been unsettled by the management changes already this year. As teams go, however, their key players have enough nous and pace to probably give an 80/90 percent account of themselves in any circumstances.

It might be close at half time, but I’d expect them to run away in the second half.

U.C.D vs Lucan Sarsfield’s

Lucan are back sitting pretty in Division 1 where they’d have always belonged if they had a championship 15 with dual players available every week. They almost pulled off the coup of the championship last year when they almost leveled late on against Vincent’s. With the right draw, they could make the semi’s.

Regardless, this is almost certainly going to be a damp squib. It’s April and exams are coming up. The likelihood of U.C.D. getting out a proper team is slim.

Exactly why they’re still allowed to have players who play for another club, twenty years after the economic reasons for that rule being invented has passed, I’m not sure. Either way, either they’re in for a hiding or they’re going to surprise us all, get out their best team and be a top five side. Unlikely though.

Kilmacud Croke’s Vs Erin’s Isle

Isle’s have fallen a long way since the late nineties when these sides would have made up a mouth-watering final, and this game represents one of two of the most extreme examples of why a 32 championship really doesn’t make any sense anymore. Isle’s getting hammered in the forst round two years, and now likely three years in a row, and Croke’s facing a top four side, four of the last five years before the quarters!

Unlike the likes of Saggart, the draw really hasn’t been kind to the unseeded Isle’s. Vincent’s last year, Brigid’s the year before, and now Croke’s! It’s hard to imagine there’ll be anything like a contest here.

Croke’s are a side full of current and former county players. They’ll be reeling after getting over the big hump of Ballyboden last year, a top five side, for the first time in a number of years, only to fall to what they’d presumably have considered to have been an easier quarter final.

One of the main contenders, you have to expect a big win here.

St Vincent’s vs Round Towers Clondalkin

Clondalking aren’t as far down the pecking order as some of the sides who’ve drawn the big clubs, but it’s still difficult to imagine they’ll get close to the county champions.

Under new management in the shape of Brian Mullins, it’s obviously unchartered territory. Whether Tommy Conroy was the tinkering genius, or whether he was simply a good leader with a lot of top notch and clever players, is impossible to say. So whether we can expect Vincent’s to carry on as before, it’s difficult to say.

It’s unlikely we’ll have too many answers based on this one. Vincent’s should be a notch up and far too strong.

St Brigid’s Vs St Peregrine’s

Peregrine’s will be chomping at the bit to have a crack at their more illustrious neighbours. In reality, however, all patterns suggest that both are somewhat in decline. Peregrine’s have failed to maintain their longish standing Division 2 status and Brigid’s haven’t beaten a top side in championship in over three years, or come particularly close for that matter.

Still, they have a mouth-watering full forward line of Paddy Andrews, Philly Ryan and Kevin Bonnar if they still choose to use him. It seems unlikely that they’re strong enough to seriously compete for the championship, but they should still be far too strong for Peregrine’s.

St Jude’s Vs Naomh Mearnóg

This is a re-run of the 2014 first round which Jude’s won at a canter. At the upper end of Division 2 and having given reasonable accounts of themselves against Croke’s last year, it’s not beyond all reasonable doubt that they could cause a shock here.

Against probably the meanest defence in Dublin, however, it’s not too likely either. Jude’s completely frustrated Croke’s last year and limited Clontarf to 1-3 and Cuala to 0-5. Their structure and organisation at the back is second to none and if they get the ball to McMenamon in space, or even without space, up front, he can cause carnage.

I’m not convinced that they have the overall pace to challenge Vincent’s or Ballymun who could plausibly over-run them the way Castleknock did late on last year, though my sense is that if they could get as far as September/October and manufacture to add the pace of Paul Maguire and Danny Sutcliffe, they might well have.

Regardless, it’s pretty unlikely that Mearnóg will have enough to break down Jude’s defence any more than Croke’s did or that they’ll stop McMenamon up front.

Ballymun Kickham’s Vs St Pat’s Palmerston

Another game which illustrates the outdated nature of the 32 team championship, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a landslide here. Pat’s were just above the drop zone in Division 2 last year, and by my calculations, which bears in mind that Vincent’s are going somewhat into the unknown, Ballymun are marginally my favourites to win the championship.

The bad news for Pat’s is that Mun’s pace makes it such that they have a particular ability to completely over-run weaker oppositions and rack up huge scores. Raven’s, Parnell’s and O’Toole’s have been slain by twenty, 21 and a whopping 53 points, respectively, and even a decent Raheny side were beaten by eighteen last year.

It’s hard to see Pat’s pulling off the required miracle here.

Balinteer St.John’s Vs St. Maur’s

Maur’s have been plagued with tough opening round draws in recent years, so they’ll see this as their best opportunity to break out of their second seed spot, which their ability probably warrants.

I keep expecting Balinteer to make a leap but it keeps failing to come to fruition. Since their famous first round slaying of Plunkett’s/Er in 2013, however, they haven’t beaten another real contender, and haven’t come particularly close either.

They’ve maintained their seeded status since, but this represents their toughest draw since they’ve had it.

On the surface of it, you should fancy the unseeded but Division 1 Maur’s who finished 12 league places ahead of Balinteer last year, but with a host of recent county under 21’s, I still see Balinteer as potentially lying in the long grass. Having not seen them in the last two years, it’s hard to say.

Saying that, the pacey go-go-go game of Maur’s can catch anybody on their day, as Ballymun learned in the league semi-final three years ago. If they get into their stride, Ciarán Reddin and Chris Carthy can run riot, and will need to be stopped in any circumstances.

Though I wouldn’t say it with any great deal of confidence, I’d fancy the pace Maur’s to win the day.

Cuala Vs Raheny

One of the big games in the sense that you’re looking at two mid weight sides, either of whom could make a good charge if they got the right draw.

Again, it’s hard to judge where Cuala are at because they fell fowl of the same exceptional Jude’s defence that Clontarf and Croke’s did. My suspicion is that they’re better than what their first round exit last year suggests.

Raheny for that matter, are probably significantly better that their 18 point loss to Ballymun suggests. We all know what Mun can do when they get the run on teams. In fact, with Raheny having got a particularly soft draw to the quarters last year, this game really is the acid test in terms of where these two sides are at.

All eyes will be on Con O’Callaghan as he just seems to get hotter and hotter as he’s moved from hurling with Cuala into under 21 with Dublin.

Another key factor here is how much Raheny’s trio of under 21 starters, Brian Howard, Seán McMahon and Darren Byrne will have on the All-Ireland final, as well as Con O’Callaghan. It really is virtually impossible to call.

If Brian Fenton and his side-kick can dominate midfield, Raheny probably have enough up front in the likes of Brian Howard and McMahon to get over the line.

If, however, Cuala break even at midfield, on current form, it’s going to take an immense performance from the Raheny defence to hold Con O’Callaghan.

Forced to call it, I’d say Cuala.

By Stephen O’Meara

@somearagaa

@grassrootsgaa