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Thursday 17 August 2017

Dublin can stick to the formula

Jim Gavin's team have yet to hit a significant bump in the road in the hunt for League title

Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Dublin manager Jim Gavin

A bit like John Wayne in 'Fort Apache,' Jim Gavin - in his reflective moments during this year's League so far - might be thinking to himself that it's quiet.

Too quiet.

Not that Dublin haven't encountered little patches of awkwardness or even that they've been particularly polished in any of their five victories so far in this, their latest season-after-the-All-Ireland-before.

Boon

But unlike any of the three previous years of his tenure - each of which featured the boon of a League title - his side have yet to come away from a match with any great lingering worries or, indeed, anything other than a win.

Maybe then, this Dublin team are just at that peak point in their life cycle.

Where primarily middling performances, even ones with noticeable passages of meekness, can be overcome with a little rethink and a dab of elbow grease.

Or maybe with Kerry doing their usual January/February slumber, preceding their spring reawakening and Mayo under new management and each other beaten opponents (Cork, Monaghan and Down) occupying various levels of accepted inferiority to the champions, Dublin's sheer half-decency is - at least at this remove - good enough to be unblemished League leaders.

Dublin's last win in Down was a test case in their 2016 form.

The first five minutes appeared to take Dublin by surprise by its arrival.

Stephen Cluxton's dropped clanger is not the sort of thing you'd expect to see in summer either.

And buoyed by all of this, Down took a little lead, the sort that on a tight pitch in front of a growingly vocal audience, might just - if the rest of the stars aligned - contribute something wholly unpredicted.

Having taken this long to acclimatise to it all, Dublin then pinned Down into their own half, kicked 1-6 on the spin and effectively won the game in a spurt of purposeful football, built on the back of a total destruction of the Down kick-out.

Stylistically speaking, it wasn't unlike that second half comeback against Cork.

And unlike a couple of years ago, when Dublin rolled that particular tactic out for every game, they are capable now of turning it on and off like a very forceful tap.

Which might be relevant, given Donegal's famous exploiting of that exact tactic two years ago, though we're unlikely to see anything too revealing from either Jim Gavin or Rory Gallagher in Croke Park tonight.

The closest thing to a worry that Gavin might have so far this year is his defensive absentees.

Jack McCaffrey will be missed primarily for his ball-carrying but Rory O'Carroll is already noteworthy for his absence as a defender.

Classy

Cork exploited it for both of their goals in their near miss in Croke Park and Down who, until that game in Newry hadn't scored a goal in this year's League, bagged their first one against the All-Ireland champions and hit the woodwork twice late on.

Mick Fitzsimons is a notably classy defender; all octopus arms and impressively balanced and he will, no doubt, free Jonny Cooper and Philly McMahon to attack to an even greater extent than they already do.

But the absence of O'Carroll's physicality and imposing persona is already inviting a certain type of attack onto the Dublin defence at the moment, one that yielded such little dividend for so long from opponents.

Donegal have more problems to solve, as Roscommon highlighted last time out, though the re-arrival of Colm McFadden to the panel is a plus and it's almost inevitable tonight that he will see his first action of the year.

We expect this will be sparky but Dublin just have that winning habit right now.

ODDS: Dublin 4/11, Draw 9/1, Donegal 11/4

VERDICT: Dublin

ALLIANZ FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIV 1: DUBLIN V DONEGAL (LIVE Setanta 7.0 tonight)

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