herald

Monday 22 December 2014

Gavin's men to plough Garden

FOR Jim Gavin, the first part of his O'Byrne Cup equation -- ensuring progress to the knockout stages -- has been secured with a game to spare.

The far more important part remains in the January melting pot: he's looking for new players to stake a compelling early claim, older ones to prove they still have what it takes, and the squad as a whole to show a willingness to adapt to a new manager with his own ideas on how Dublin should play in 2013.

But what of Wicklow? For Harry Murphy, setting out on his second season at the Garden County coalface, tomorrow's trip to Donnycarney is the ideal litmus test.

Having spent years wallowing in the Division Four backwaters, Wicklow will find themselves swimming with the relatively bigger fish of Meath, Monaghan, Sligo and Roscommon this spring.

Division Three will be a tough ask for a newly promoted team currently missing eight players who featured in last year's championship, among them such forward mainstays as Leighton Glynn and the retired Tony Hannon.

Hence, Murphy is in the market for experimentation and delighted that he can test out the mettle of several new faces against such a formidable foe as Dublin.

"Obviously enough we are going to be up against it," he told the Evening Herald. "When the draw was made, everyone knew Dublin were going to be the team (to beat) and with Jim taking over, he will be having a look at a few different lads."

He then alluded to Thursday's dramatic news that Ciaran Kilkenny, the most coveted talent to recently emerge from Dublin's flourishing underage production line, has turned his back on a professional Aussie Rules career with Hawthorn. "That just shows the pull that Dublin have on players," the Wicklow boss mused.

At least he won't have to worry about Kilkenny's prolific threat tomorrow. But, for the moment at least, he must plan without eight players from last summer's set-up. Niall Gaffney and Peadar Burke have emigrated, Hannon and Joey Kelly have retired; Seánie Furlong cannot commit right now; while Glynn, Nicky Mernagh and Stephen Kelly are all on the injured list.

Glynn, Wicklow's standout performer during the Mick O'Dwyer era, ran into complications when he first tried returning from his broken ankle and is "in a healing process at the moment" with his manager hoping he might be available mid-league. Mernagh and Kelly (both knee) may be back for the start of their league campaign.

"You can see the reasons for us trying to find people to fill their boots," explained Murphy, who has already used 35 players over their outings against DCU (draw) and Carlow (a three-point defeat).

Dublin have recorded two relatively emphatic victories over Carlow (by seven points) and DCU (by 11) even while playing sporadically well and with their new boss blooding a host of rookies, comeback kids and small ball 'imports'.

Speaking of the latter, Tomás Brady looked more assured at full-back against DCU than a No 6 against Carlow but it was Jack McCaffrey, as much as anyone, who caught the eye on his first competitive start last Wednesday. Diarmuid Connolly's early season focus is another source of Sky Blue optimism.

Suffice to say, Gavin has enough options to preserve their winning run tomorrow.

VERDICT: Dublin

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