Dubs able to push on
FOR Jim Gavin, progress isn't necessarily measured by results. At least not yet.
That adage that you learn more in defeat than in victory, he insisted this week, isn't particularly applicable in his management of Dublin and therefore, their first league defeat against Tyrone last weekend, while not particularly helpful, wasn't entirely detrimental to the grand plan either.
"We review quite clinically every performance, victory or defeat," he explained at his weekly press briefing yesterday. "What I am looking for is consistency in the performance and we haven't got that yet in any of the games, despite what the results were."
"Some of the finishing, we have worked on that during the week and hopefully we will see an improvement on that at the weekend.
"Our defensive structure as well was, at times, disorganised. So it's incremental progress."
Finishing was certainly an issue, although they did manage to score 1-14 and kicked seven wides without the presence of Bernard Brogan. And in his absence – and that of Ciarán Kilkenny – it was, and will continue to be, incumbent on the likes of Kevin McManamon, Paddy Andrews and Diarmuid Connolly to take up the scoring slack.
The expected loss of Paul Flynn is another awkward hole in Dublin's armoury. Not so much with regard to scoring, but in the never-ceasing hunt for breaking ball and clean possession around the middle of the park.
Against Kildare, in particular, Flynn was lethally quick and aggressively forceful to sweep up any crumbs, giving the oxygen of early, direct ball into Dublin's attack.
But defensively, too, there is a blatant need for Dublin to tighten up.
They gave up 31 scoring opportunities to Tyrone last weekend and even if eight of their wides were long-range shots from players under pressure from Dublin defenders, Red Hand substitutes Plunkett Kane and Paddy McNiece showed exactly how fresh players with a penchant for accuracy from distance can hurt you at a vital time in the match.
Ger Brennan, for all his graft and battle, hasn't yet developed the positional nous for full-back play and the absence of Rory O'Carroll will be repeatedly felt until such time as he resumes full fitness, although Down don't quite have a full-forward of sufficient bulk to fully exploit his loss.
And in truth, Brennan is badly needed at number six, both for his physicality in hitting anything that dares move towards the middle of the Dublin defence and his quick, accurate passing.
For all that, Down – while competitive this year – aren't winning matches, save for a particularly impressive victory over Mayo in Newry, and will be more than likely relegated with defeat tonight.
Though they made it competitive in the second-half against a Kerry team badly lacking in confidence but painfully needing a win in Tralee last weekend, they trailed at one stage by seven points and were largely inferior.
The emergence of Donal O'Hare has been a massive positive for James McCartan, however, exemplified by his nine-point tally and game-winning performance against Mayo. Here, Down have a forward with the ability to win the ball in front of his man and the confidence to shoot on sight from a variety of distances and angles.
He's likely to get plenty of space to do so in Croke Park too, although judging from Gavin's comments this week, Dublin have prioritised better organisation in defence and there is little chance they will leak as many scores to Down as they contrived to against Tyrone last Saturday night at headquarters.
After that, it's a question of Dublin's attack – bereft of frontliners though it may be – taking a higher percentage of scoring chances and if they do manage to hit the net again, particularly early on, it could be a comfortable evening and a guaranteed semi-final spot.
"It's going to be very competitive," reckoned Gavin.
"They've been unlucky not to get some points in a good few games, particularly the Cork game is one they probably should have won.
"Defensively they're very well organised and hit you hard on the counter and they've some marquee forwards that, if given space will score.
"They're coming down to Croke Park to play Dublin, which is a motivation in itself and they need two points. So it's going to be a really tough game for both sides."
ODDS: Dublin 2/9, Draw 10/1, Down 9/2