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Saturday 20 December 2014

Blues pass DCU exam

MAYBE the most revealing line of Jim Gavin's post-match assessment after his Dublin team beat DCU 3-16 to 1-11 in Parnell Park last night arrived when he was asked whether the two Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup victories had affected his thinking for the commencement of the league in under four weeks' time.

"It's taking shape," he asserted swiftly. "Some players are putting in some good performances and the slots are beginning to fill up."

The plot, then, is slowly thickening. Results don't really matter but the auditioning process is very much up and running and, January or no January, the leading men are quickly staking their claims.

Just like Sunday in Carlow, Dublin mixed all kinds of everything last night -- good and not so good --- in putting an 11-point win over a strong DCU utterly unrecognisable from the selection that drew with Wicklow last Sunday.

A late goal from Kevin McManamon after a smart pass from Jack McCaffrey embellished the result, maybe unfairly, but Dublin peaked for the beginning and end of the match and more often than not, that means a win.

"The tempo seemed to go out of the game for a while and they got a stranglehold," Gavin noted of the middle third of the game when DCU claimed their goal through Michael Quinn, should have had another when the increasingly impressive Dean Rock (1-4, 1-0 pen, 0-2f) blasted a penalty over the bar, and wiped the Dublin kick-out completely.

"We made some substitutions and injected some pace into it and a bit of intensity as well. But we finished strong. Scoring 1-4 unanswered at the end of the game having only played a few days previously was satisfying."

Diarmuid Connolly is surely one of the 'probables' for the start of the Allianz League though, after another influential display; kicking a penalty, a '45', a free and a point from play, added to three early assists and, most intriguingly, finishing up the match spraying visionary passes from midfield.

Ger Brennan, too, was commanding and assured at centre-back, not to mention far more comfortable in those more familiar environs.

Naturally, Gavin didn't sprinkle down any individual praise, reiterating "consistency of performance", would be the deciding factor in any selection issues and focusing on the collective.

Lull

Clearly, fatigue played its part in Dublin's post- and pre-half-time lull and it was no surprise to hear Gavin state that many who soldiered both last Sunday and last night will be assessed and possibly rested on Sunday (v Wicklow) as the Dubs have already secured a semi-final spot.

Of greater concern though will be DCU's dominance in midfield and on the Dublin kick-out.

In the first instance, the problem may yet be part of the solution, with St Oliver Plunkett's Craig Dunleavy forming an effective partnership with Fiontán Ó Curraoin of Galway.

Denis Bastick was all graft and guile (and struck Dublin's first goal after 34 minutes when Bernard Brogan put Paul Hudson through on DCU 'keeper James Farrelly, who was injured in the exchange), but needed greater assistance from his half-forward line.

The kick-out malfunctioned far too often though and asked whether that was a result of the fact that their set piece restarts were still at an embryonic stage of development, Gavin replied straightforwardly: "It's simply, the targets weren't met by the players tonight."

In some mitigation, Shane Supple, the man sending the arrows, made three outstanding close-range saves in the last six minutes when DCU came looking for goals but it's an area that needs close attention in the short term. Special mentions on the night go to Jack McCaffrey, Paul Hudson and Tomás Brady.

McCaffrey, Dublin under-21s' flying wing-back of last year, had a fine debut start. And though he never quite got the chance to turn on the afterburners, he was sharp and composed in defence and useful in attack.

Hudson -- rested on Sunday due to academic commitments -- encored his Dubs Stars tour de force with a haul of four points (three from play) before being taken off with 20 minutes to go. And plenty of kudos for Brady too who, in just his second competitive senior inter-county football match, scrapped and scraped manfully at full-back, exuding a powerfully calming influence in times of panic.

"It's a massive leap for him," noted his manager. "But he's a very determined man. He has applied himself very well. The more game time we can get into him, he will benefit from it."

Wicklow await on Sunday and with a semi-final spot now assured, the Dubs with grand designs have at least two more tryouts before Gavin reveals his first spring hand.

"We're looking for consistency of performance," he added, reiterating his sentiments from last Sunday, "we're not even getting there, but it's a start."

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