Monday 24 October 2016

Darren happy to fight for his jersey

Darren Daly
Darren Daly

JIM Gavin's injury updates can be a bit weather-forecast-ish in their eventual accuracy but if the Dublin manager's most recent health bulletin is, indeed, on the money, he has a few testy little selection issues to address before the end of this week.

On the one hand, if you play in a 27-point Championship win - like Dublin's over Longford - you're probably not touching the outskirts of your rights to expect to be handed the same jersey for the subsequent match.

On the other, it's inconceivable that some, or perhaps all, of Rory O'Carroll, Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy and Michael Darragh Macauley wouldn't be selected for a big Dublin Championship match - such as Sunday's against Kildare - if each - as Gavin announced - has now arrived at the point of optimum fitness.

"I think that's a good thing for us," says Darren Daly, a beneficiary of the defensive absences against Longford with a starting spot.

"We have very strong competition within the squad and competition leads to efficiency, that's the way we look at it.

"The more competition you have, no matter who you are there is someone looking to get into your spot so I think that's the way to have it and that's a big plus for any team."


Daly is a case in point.

He started - and finished - at wing-back in a match in which Dublin conceded just ten points and five from play.

Barely a defensive foot or hand was put wrong.

Yet for returning defenders, McCarthy, O'Carroll and O'Sullivan - all of whom missed large slabs of League action with injury - an early-as-possible exposure to Championship football would very clearly benefit Dublin's seasonal aims.

Nine into six doesn't go, though. So something's gotta give.

Which is why it's not hard to imagine the respective candidates eyeing one another up, doing those sorts of calculations in their heads after training in the days before a Leinster semi-final.

"Ah, you can't be like that, no," Daly asserts.

"No, we know the amount of lads there but you can't be thinking this is his spot.

"You just keep playing well, doing your stuff when you get the chance and hopefully play well and hopefully the next day you are kept there. There are no guarantees.

"There is serious competition. Everyone knows the system, everyone can plan, anyone can do the job, that keeps lads on their toes."

On the topic of his extended tenure as Dublin boss, Gavin admitted that part of selection policy this spring and beyond was developmental in aim.

As such, the Championship debuts given to John Small, Davey Byrne and Brian Fenton were mostly part form-related, part long-game thinking from Gavin.

The performance of each the last day - admittedly under no particularly palpable pressure - means that in the immediate term, each is the man in possession when the Dublin manager sits down to finalise his side.

The positions in which the three played - and their respective styles - are significant too.

O'Carroll has long been invaluable to the Dublin cause for a) his defensive abilities and b) the lack of significant direct cover.

Pillar Caffrey, by contrast, fielded four different full-backs (many of them, converted from more participative roles in the team) in his four Leinster finals as Dublin manager, just prior to O'Carroll's emergence.

Byrne is a full-back by trade and if perhaps not quite ready to take on the incumbent for the number three jersey this year, will provide adequate relief if required and a viable successor in the medium term.

Small, meanwhile, is very much in the Ger Brennan mould and given all of Dublin's ills in last year's All-Ireland semi-finals were distilled into a Ger Brennan-sized hole in their defence, finding a suitable and similar deputy was always certain to be one of Gavin's spring '15 aims.

And then there's Fenton, who might yet be a wing-forward but might also be a midfielder at county level - neither he or Gavin seems as yet sure.

Either way, Dublin haven't been particularly well endowed in either position past those who inhabit the jerseys numbered eight to twelve in their starting alignment and Fenton's emergence can be taken only as a positive.

And while it mightn't register very highly on the Dub-o-meter, the repatriation of Michael Savage to the Dublin senior squad after a two-and-a-half year absence solves at least some of the jitters that accompany the 'what happens if Cluxton's crocked?' question Dublin have managed to avoid answering so far.

"The more players you play in the League, it gives the lads confidence, experience and then when we are playing in the Championship, we know the systems," Daly outlines.


"They get in there, they can just play it."

Indeed Gavin's biggest problem this week may well be selling the long-term vision to tyros who expect to be rewarded for their Longford-obliterating efforts, if he does elect to reintroduce the aforementioned quartet to starting spots for Kildare.

"Obviously they are that that bit more confident, lads coming in having played before and straight into Championship it is great to get them a few League games," Daly adds.

"And in fairness, Jim has spread them about throughout the whole panel and gave everyone a fair bit of time."

"The more competition you have, no matter who you are there is someone looking to get into your spot.

"So I think that's the way to have it," the Fingal Ravens defender concludes, "and that's a big plus for any team."

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