Another year - but same Dubs
Dublin 0-18 Cavan 0-11 Allianz Football League Division 1: Massive Cavan crowd see Gavin's heroes sprint out of league blocks
Any lingering suspicion that Dublin's front-line troops would return to public view yesterday looking bloated and rusty and vulnerable to an ambush lasted far less than a half of Allianz League football.
We hadn't seen them for the month of January, as a Dublin development squad underlined the depth of football in the capital by snaring the O'Byrne Cup.
But back they arrived at Kingspan Breffni Park, almost en masse, and after 20 minutes of trading points with their gung-ho hosts, they moved up a gear and ... well, you know the rest.
By the final whistle the margin had extended to seven and, while losing boss Mattie McGleenan felt this was an unjust reflection on Cavan's performance, there was no mistaking the gap in class.
Dublin won at their ease, even while accumulating almost twice as many wides. They started two O'Byrne Cup tyros and introduced several more off the bench - of these, once again, Niall Scully made the most compelling claim for a greater role in 2017.
They also welcomed Jack McCaffrey back into the Sky Blue fold - albeit wearing navy blue to avoid a colour clash - for the first time since he came off the bench in Mayo 12 months ago.
McCaffrey was busy in the first half, less involved thereafter, but the many Dublin fans in a massive attendance of 16,331 will be greatly reassured to see him back.
They will be just as pleased to see so many of last year's All-Ireland squad look to fresh and hungry for action.
This wasn't a uniformly brilliant display but the level of control displayed, and even more so the sprightly movement and energy levels of the old guard, augur well for the coming spring.
Dublin's unbeaten league and championship run - now 30 games and counting - is liable to face a sterner examination from Tyrone at Croke Park next Saturday, but this opening effort was certainly enough to please Jim Gavin.
"It was a workmanlike performance," he decreed. "Eighteen points we got out there today and we limited them to four points in the second half, which was pleasing defensively when we expected them to come hard at us. I thought we controlled the game very well."
Asked about the team's impressive conditioning, given their lack of game time, Gavin replied: "We are back training collectively two weeks. I think any inter-county player at the elite level of Gaelic football, they are well-versed in what condition they need to be when they come back in.
"That is a very competitive Division 1 ... you need to be up to the pitch of the game."
No one more so than James McCarthy. He may have four Celtic Crosses but the Ballymun wing-back of the Rolls Royce engine was positively purring from the off here.
McCarthy was involved in many of Dublin's best first-half moves. Then he moved into an even higher gear to land a brace of eye-catching points in the second period.
Scully finished with similar scoring stats from a more advanced wing-forward position. His transition from O'Byrne Cup player of the tournament to league starter was utterly seamless, so much so that TG4 made him the official Man of the Match - although, in our view, it was impossible to overlook McCarthy's rival claims.
Cavan, to their credit, started like a team intent on pushing their vaunted opponents to the limit. The throw-in was delayed 15 minutes because of tailbacks on the N3; but within 15 seconds of the belated start they had opened the scoring through Seánie Johnston.
The action was energetic, the scoring tit-for-tat, throughout that first quarter. When Johnston landed his third point and second from play - a sublime 20th minute shot from the left touchline - the hosts were back in front, 0-5 to 0-4.
Dublin's response was both rapid and ruthless - five unanswered points to leave them four up by the half-hour mark. That period effectively ended any prospect of a Cavan ambush - and it also underlined the learning curve they face on their return to the top-flight.
One second they had a free on Dublin's 45m line - but possession was kicked heedlessly away, the ball was quickly worked up the pitch and it all finished with a Scully point.
"That's something we have to improve on," said McGleenan of those turnover tendencies. "We'll take that back to the training ground."
At half-time they trailed 0-10 to 0-7. They never got any closer thereafter, and McCarthy's superb point on the burst kickstarted a run of three quick points to leave Dublin six clear by the 47th minute.
Cavan punched occasional second-half holes through the centre of Dublin's defence, notably for points by Gerard Smith and Conor Madden. But, to make a real game of it, they needed to show more ambition: if Madden had carried the ball further, a goal chance might have beckoned.
Even in defeat, McGleenan was enthused by everything surrounding the day - although he argued that his team deserved a few more frees.
"There were certainly a couple of key moments in the second half where I felt maybe there was a third-man tackle where our men were taken off the ball," the Tyrone man maintained.
"But that's why Dublin are All-Ireland champions, they are fabulous at how they play the game, they play the game to the line.
"That's our education and they gave us a good lesson today."
Dublin 0-18 Cavan 0-11
SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 0-7 (6f), N Scully, J McCarthy 0-2 each, K McManamon, MD Macauley, J Whelan, C Kilkenny, J McCaffrey, B Fenton, C Costello (f) 0-1 each. Cavan: S Johnston 0-5 (2f), N McDermott (2f), G Smith 0-2 each, J McCutcheon, C Madden 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, P McMahon, E Lowndes; J McCarthy, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, MD Macauley; J Whelan, C Kilkenny, N Scully; P Mannion, D Rock, K McManamon. Subs: C Costello for McManamon (42), C Basquel for Whelan (46), E O'Gara for Mannion (56), D Byrne for Fitzsimons (59), C Reddin for Macauley (62), C McHugh for Rock (70).
CAVAN: J Farrelly; P Faulkner, R Dunne, F Reilly; C Brady, K Brady, C Moynagh; K Clarke, J McCutcheon; M Reilly, D McVeety, G Smith; N Clerkin, N McDermott, S Johnston. Subs: S Murray for McCutcheon (ht), P O'Connor for McDermott (ht), G McKiernan for Dunne (42), C Madden for Moynagh (47), N McKiernan for Clerkin (61), S O'Rourke for Madden (66).
WIDES: Dublin 11 (3+8); Cavan 6 (2+4).
YELLOW: Dublin 1 (Macauley 34); Cavan 2 (McCutcheon 35, Clarke 70).
REF: P O'Sullivan (Kerry). ATT: 16,331
MAN OF THE MATCH: James McCarthy