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Saturday 12 July 2014

Dubs rich with talent

REMEMBER the barstool consensus, just a few years ago, which proclaimed that the second best hurling team in Ireland could be found occupying the seats on Brian Cody's Kilkenny bench?

It wasn't strictly true, of course, but the very fact the debate was happening merely reinforced the sense of Black-and-Amber invincibility.

The same all-conquering argument cannot be made about the Dublin footballers – not now, at any rate, given their recent strike rate (one |All-Ireland in 17 years), their failure to defend that very title last summer, and the fact they are now engaged in a period of managerial and squad transition.

But you can certainly make the case that Jim Gavin has a greater luxury of options at his disposal than any other rival manager, Jim McGuinness included.

Donegal may have Sam but is it not true that Dublin have the greater strength in depth? And could that prove decisive in the long run this season?

Tomorrow night in Parnell Park, Gavin will attempt to snaffle his first piece of senior silverware – the first of many, he hopes – when his new-look Dubs tackle Kildare in the O'Byrne Cup final (throw-in 7.0).

Clearly, the result won't be everything: the new Dublin boss will be more interested in monitoring individual displays, be they up-and-coming rookies or established All-Ireland winners from 2011.

He will want to see how these players of different vintages blend as a unit, how they adapt to his own specific game-plan. The fact that Kildare provide the opposition should ensure it proves a far more meaningful examination than last Sunday's cakewalk win over Louth.

For different reasons, Gavin has been unable to call on a variety of players during this O'Byrne Cup campaign, be they injured or taking an early season break or playing for their college or focusing on club All-Ireland dreams.

But what if, for argument's sake, the new boss had everyone at his disposal this week and this was a Leinster championship showdown, not a pre-league tournament?

Obviously, he will have his own ideas on team selection and it's entirely conceivable that several players who were Pat Gilroy regulars will be Jim Gavin bench-warmers.

We'll have to wait several more weeks, or months, before a clearer picture will emerge about Dublin's likely championship composition ... but in the meantime, here are two alternative teams for your perusal.

In one camp, we have 15 players who soldiered under Gavin during his five-year stint (2008-’12) in charge of the Dublin U21s.

In the other, we have 15 more ‘seasoned' campaigners, who all won an All-Ireland senior medal under Gilroy – either starting or coming off the bench – and who are still available to

the new management team. Several players qualify for both teams: thus, purely in pursuit of balanced line-ups, we have included Rory O'Carroll, Philly McMahon and Cian O'Sullivan among our ‘Senior Class Acts' even though all three previously played for the new incumbent at U21 level.

By the same token, Kevin Nolan, James McCarthy and Diarmuid Connolly have been selected for our ‘Gavin Graduates', notwithstanding the fact that all three are already senior All-Ireland veterans.

Some of the above were U21 mainstays: O'Carroll was Cadbury's 2010 Hero of the Future after a stellar campaign ended in All-Ireland glory while his Kilmacud Crokes club-mate, O'Sullivan, skippered the young Dubs to a Leinster title the previous year.

By contrast, Connolly has less happy memories from 2008 when he was sent off as Dublin lost narrowly to Kildare in a Leinster quarter-final ... but Gavin has seen a different side to the player in recent weeks, with the mercurial St Vincent's man in effervescent form during Dublin's O'Byrne Cup advance.

When you scan the list of 30, you get a clear inkling of the selection riches at Dublin's disposal.

Moreover, for ‘eligibility' reasons, we haven't even included current reserve goalkeeper Shane Supple (who was a soccer professional with Ipswich Town when he might otherwise have crossed Gavin's U21 radar); or minor |All-Ireland winners such as David Byrne, Eric Lowndes and Cormac Costello, who have all made their senior debuts in this O'Byrne Cup before they've even featured at U21 level.

Speaking of teenage prodigies, the unexpected bonanza of Ciarán Kilkenny's return from Australia has merely added to the sense of great expectation in the capital.

It helps to explains why Boylesports have installed the Dubs as 7/2 All-Ireland favourites, marginally ahead of Donegal, Kerry (both 4/1) and Cork (9/2).

Gavin's record with the U21s – winning two of the last three All-Ireland titles, having previously won |Leinster in 2009 – also augurs positively for the year ahead.

He knows these players and, presumably, will show faith in the most talented ones during the upcoming Allianz League.

At this juncture, given his underage pedigree and January form, Jack McCaffrey looks a cert for spring promotion. Others, too, will be given auditions to shine.

However, only when we see how they perform in a hothouse competitive environment, against heavyweight opposition, will we glean a fuller picture of Dublin's apparently opulent resources.

On paper, they would certainly take some stopping – on grass, the jury remains out.

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