Posted by Shane Stapleton

Dublin have been dominant at HQ for a number of years but there have been some surprises in Leinster

Westmeath laois
You’ve heard sports players saying it, let’s make our home ground a fortress. Manchester United fans shout it about Old Trafford, Liverpool followers of Anfield, Leinster rugby fans refer to their ‘D4tress’ and Ireland fans of the same code hope that the Aviva will one day become something similar. 

Dublin football fans knows that, for Dublin to make a clean sweep of league, Leinster and All-Ireland trophies this year, they will have done so by playing 13 of their 15 games at what is effectively their home ground: Croke Park.

Over the last decade, the Dubs have played just four of 51 championship games outside of HQ and only defeat in Leinster and an away draw in the qualifiers would add to that. Their league record in Croke Park this year has been impressive, with six wins from seven and that sole defeat being a weakened side against Tyrone on March 16.

They went on to beat the Red Hands in the final and, in doing so, accrued some noteworthy statistics from their seven outings at HQ. A scoring average of 1-17 and a mean winning rate of +5.4 points per game — which over that number of matches is quite striking.

But fear not, underdog, because there is hope. Dublin might have only lost one Leinster championship game at Croker since 2004 — which we’ll get to shortly — but in the All-Ireland series they have been turned over by Kerry three times, Mayo and Tyrone twice and once apiece by Cork, Meath, Westmeath, Laois and Armagh.

They weren’t all massive upsets but they do give hope to Westmeath, who turned the Dubs over in 2004. The Lake County were responsible for one of our ‘Croke Park shocks’ in the Leinster championship (some of which are clues to some of our weekly quiz questions where you can win match tickets) and, because they have been so dominant, it’s understandable that the Dubs feature strongly below. 

Westmeath 0-14 Dublin 0-12, 2004
Tommy Lyons’ Dublin side looked set to ruin riot on Páidi Ó Sé’s Westmeath at Croke Park on June 6 2004 with Jason Sherlock whipping up four points in the opening 16 minutes.

“They were roasting us in the first 15 minutes and we couldn’t get a grip,” said Westmeath forward Dessie Dolan, who scoreed 0-3 that day. “They went four points up. Gradually we got into the game. 

But the Dubs had just a three-point lead at the interval and O Sé’s Lake County roared out of the blocks to take a lead after 46 minutes. Dublin regained parity and Jayo had a chance to find the net late on but was denied by Gary Connaughton, before Joe Fallon and Paul Conway sealed the Lake County’s first Championship success over the Metropolitans since 1967. All the better to manage that in Croker, though Dublin manager Lyons took some rough treatment afterwards.

What a first season for Páidi Ó Sé as they went on to win a first ever Leinster title when also shocking Laois, and it was all documented in ‘Marooned’.

Wicklow 0-13 Kildare 0-9, 2008
Kerry legend Mick O’Dwyer had been responsible for Laois’ amazing run to a Leinster title in 2003 and was on the receiving end when Westmeath, led by fellow countyman Paidi O Se, shocked them a year later after a replay.

Now, as manager of Wicklow, O’Dwyer was on a hiding to nothing as his minnows went to Croke Park to face another of his old sides. Tony Hannon (0-06) and Seanie Furlong (0-04) led the line for Wicklow as they shocked the GAA world, to spoil Armagh man Kieran ‘Geezer’ McGeeney’s debut as a senior manager.

The defeat put huge pressure on Geezer, who afterwards said: "The difference between 100% and 99% is massive. Most people playing competitive sport are willing to give the 95 or 96% but it's the extra three or four per cent that makes the difference… There's no Rocky music being played during the game, there's no motivational speeches, Al Pacino doesn't sit on the midway line. All it is is silence out there and all you hear is your heart beating and your breathing, that's what has to motivate you."

To put into context how big a shock this was, the Garden County had never before won a championship game at Croke Park. Even in terms of head-to-head, this was only Wicklow’s second championship win against the Lilies since 1911. 

Meath 5-9 Dublin 0-13, 2010
There were 107 goals in 64 championship matches of 2010 (an average of 1.67 per game) but Meath broke the mould with five against Leinster monopolists Dublin in 2010.

Dublin fans felt aggrieved on the day that refereeing decisions played a part in both of Stephen Bray’s key goals. Barry Cahill was called for two hops in the first half and then Meath’s Graham Reilly may have switched hands on the ball for the second-half effort — with both leading to livewire Bray smashing the ball past Stephen Cluxton.

Philly McMahon had the unenviable task of picking up Bray that day and put the defeat down to a poor overall display. “I think that game wasn’t only defensively from the back, it was from the forwards all the way back that we went asleep. We weren’t together. Maybe it was the wake up call to say maybe we weren’t as good as we thought we, well, as we thought we were moving. So, we got to the semi-final of the All-Ireland that year, 2010, it probably gave us that experience that, you know, ‘we’re not invincible’. The back door that year helped us as well, you know.”

It was a tight game for long 40 minutes, at which point they were level, but goals sealed the game and Meath finding the net with four of their final seven scores was always going to do just that. An 11-point win that no one saw coming.

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