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Thursday 2 October 2014

Dubs stick to script

IT was never in the script that the Jim Gavin era would launch with a crash-landing in Carlow. Sorry to disappoint all you shock junkies in desperate search of a New Year adrenaline rush: there were no last-minute alterations to the widely leaked plot at Dr Cullen Park.

Gavin's new-look Dublin came to Carlow and they conquered, by 3-13 to 1-12. Their Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup campaign is off to a predictably winning start and they are now early favourites to reach the semi-final stages, especially given yesterday's deadlock between Group B rivals Wicklow and DCU.

"Collectively they performed well. It was by no manner of means a consistent performance and that (consistency) is what we will be looking for as we march through these games," was the new manager's impression.

"There is no individual that would have jumped out at me, just collectively at times they did well. They are getting used to each other; there are a lot of young faces. They are getting used to probably a different way of playing defensively. I'm satisfied with getting the result anyway," he concluded.

Gavin's reluctance to shower individual praise is understandable, not just because this is the way of the modern-day manager, but also because this was a typical O'Byrne Cup opener where even established stars might veer from sublime one minute to shoddy the next.

By no stretch of the imagination were Dublin universally brilliant but they weren't too ring-rusty for the first Sunday in January either.

We had flashes of incisive forward play from Diarmuid Connolly, Paddy Andrews and towering Peregrine's rookie Robert McCarthy. We had some solid defensive cameos too, principally from Cian O'Sullivan and another new kid on the block, minor graduate Eric Lowndes, who impressed in the second half.

The jury is still out on whether full-back is a likely long-term home for Ger Brennan, whose instinct to drive on in possession was still apparent even with No 3 on his back. The man replacing him at No 6, Tomás Brady, needs games (and lots of them) before anyone can pronounce definitive judgement on the merits of his switch from small ball's embrace.

Declan O'Mahony, back from the inter-county wilderness, enjoyed some initial kickout success and supplemented his primary job-spec with an excellent first half point too, but his day was run after 55 minutes.

His midfield partner, 2011 All Star Michael Darragh Macauley, had long since departed by then, succumbing to a quad injury midway through the opening half.

And Carlow? They were brave, honest and even competitive - up to a point. Anthony Rainbow, another manager making his senior baptism, can take some solace from this opening effort but he knows where the bar of ambition is set.

His adopted county won't be winning any Leinster titles this summer (they have enough on their plate with Westmeath before even contemplating the faraway Utopia of ambushing the Dubs in a quarter-final) but Rainbow will be hoping that maybe, just maybe, promotion from Division Four is an attainable goal.

The erstwhile Peter Pan of Kildare football can be relatively satisfied on several counts. Firstly, Carlow never capitulated, responding doggedly to a series of mini-crises during the game.

Having coughed up the first five points inside 11 minutes, they recovered to trail by 0-6 to 0-3. Then they reacted to Dublin's opening goal (from Connolly after 22 minutes) by scoring three rapid-fire points, all from the boot of Brian Murphy, thus ensuring a half-time deficit of 1-9 to 0-8.

When McCarthy fisted home the visitors' second goal - gift-wrapped by Andrews within six minutes of the restart - Carlow again responded positively with two Darragh Foley frees.

Even the concession of a third goal after 48 minutes - emphatically finished by senior debutant Paddy Quinn pouncing on a loose ball in the goalmouth - didn't break their resolve.

Bolstered by the introduction of their talisman, Brendan Murphy - making a speedier-than-expected return from a lacerated kidney - Carlow kept plugging away and signed off with a Daniel St Ledger goal and then an Eoghan Ruth point at the death.

Still, this late salvo was of consolation value, little else. When Dublin were at their best, during the opening 20-plus minutes, the gulf in class was obvious.

Equally apparent was the Sky Blue tactic of feeding their inside forwards with fast delivery from deep. Cue Connolly's goal, wherein a superb catch and spectacular finish to the roof of the net sandwiched a blatant foul (all in vain) by his despairing marker.

Asked about this direct approach, Gavin replied: "It is one of the game-plays we are looking at. We will have a menu of them - we'll mix it up as we go through the O'Byrne Cup and the league.

"We got some good return from it," he added. "We spoke to guys about trying to get consistent performance, and that wasn't consistent today by no manner of means... but it's a start anyway."

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