It’s the scourge of players and teams alike across many sports. It affects individual players and teams alike and it is three words that are synonymous with success: second season syndrome.
Prior to last year, the last time Dublin won the All-Ireland Senior Football Final was on a balmy September afternoon in 1995 and everything was coming up blue. Expectations were high the following season and fans anticipated a sterling defence of the Sam Maguire cup. Alas, after poor performances and fortunate victories in the early rounds, the Dubs lost the Leinster final to Meath and their involvement in the 1996 campaign was over.
History teaches that teams are doomed to make the same mistakes again if they don’t learn from them and Blues manager, Pat Gilroy, part of that 1995 winning side, knows all too well the pitfalls before them.
He has experienced first-hand the range of distractions players can suffer but at least this time around, there won’t be the added disruption of a new manager.
Dublin have taken a while to get over the exploits of last summer, a fact evident in their Allianz National Football League campaign. They suffered four defeats in the spring including a 12-point drubbing at the hands of Mayo.
The issue for the Dubs is if the hunger to build on last year’s success is there. There is no doubt that the players will be fit, both physically and mentally, for the coming months. However, long-term injuries to defenders Kevin Nolan and Michael Fitzsimons have scuppered preparations somewhat, with Denis Bastick’s influence around midfield also sorely missed.
The forward line has also failed to sparkle thus far, with Alan Brogan and Barry Cahill, restricted in the number minutes they played, Bernard Brogan not having played much football at all and Eoghan O’Gara getting another injury at the wrong time. Gilroy, never one to shy away from making hard decisions, will continue making difficult choices in the coming weeks, as he looks to fine-tune his team and make an assault on first, Leinster and then Ireland, by playing their renowned counter-attacking style.
With Kerry looking rejuvenated and training as hard as ever, the Kingdom will be looking to regain their lost crown, with their only weakness lying in their defence, who are not as quick on their feet. With arguably the best forward line in Ireland, Kerry should be thereabouts in September.
Cork, judging on their League final performance, look formidable and if they can maintain consistency, will be a huge threat come the autumn.
With the men from Munster looking like this year’s favourites, it will be hard for the Dubs to retain their crown and play with the verve of last season’s courage and will. As time goes by, it will be seen if the Boys in Blue play with that courage and will again.
However, if the Dubs can play it again, then Sam could stay in the capital for another year, in what could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.