Sunday 23 October 2016

Dubs sights set on silverware

Dubs celebrate
Dubs celebrate

JIM Gavin was asked many, many times and in various guises, featuring intricate variations from his inquisitors, whether he felt Dublin were in a better position now, compared with 12 months ago, in their bid for an All-Ireland title.

Jim Gavin being Jim Gavin, a wily old veteran of such post match repartee with the Gaelic games media at this stage in his managerial lifespan, he ducked, dived, evaded and avoided voicing any real opinion on the subject.

"I have a tendency not to look back if I'm honest," he began.

"When you ask me that question . . . we have never, ever referenced the past with this football team. We stay in the present and look just slightly beyond the hedge at what's ahead of us.

"That's the way we have always approached it."

"I think every season you take in isolation.

"We are in a strong position now because there is a great appetite to play with the county and they are very focussed and want be the best they can be on the pitch and that's what we are trying to facilitate."

Maybe though, the more pertinent question was not whether Dublin were any better than they were at this time last year, but whether they're any different.


No-one could accuse Gavin's team of not being good at what they did last year but in the gaping hole of hindsight ripped open by Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final last year, perhaps they were inflexible and just a little predictable too.

Yesterday's performance, impressive though it most clearly was, looked very much like the Dublin team of 2014, pre-Donegal.

Man-to-man marking, full court press on Cork's kick-outs...it was all there and it worked a charm.

Yet at various different stages during the nine games it took his team to win their third League title on the spin, Dublin have defended differently.

Against Derry, for instance, they declined to press the ball, leaving Brian McIver's team to loop around awaiting the pressure, a tactical inclination that resulted in a sort of Mexican stand-off that descended to sporting farce and had some howling at the moon for roughly a fortnight afterwards.

Yesterday's goals from Mark Collins and Daniel Goulding were just the third and fourth they conceded in the entire competition.

Even allowing for the drop in scoring across this year's League, that's a sizeable reduction.

Similarly, they have, most notably in Croke Park against Tyrone, Derry and Monaghan, struggled with both their patience and penetration against defences built around the principles of constriction.

Yet against Mayo in Castlebar, Monaghan in Clones and Cork yesterday, they blitzed their opponents, scoring early and often.

Whether they're any better at balancing that scoring power with defensive alertness is still to be seen. And it won't be until August, at the very earliest juncture.

On the playing front, things have most certainly moved on, though there are questions still to be answered.

Centre-back remains unsolved.

John Small performed well in the matches he started as a 'holding' six but Cian O'Sullivan was excellent yesterday in a more cavalier interpretation of the role.

The uncertainty over Ger Brennan's fitness only adds to the general mystery of Gavin's intentions there.

In attack, Dean Rock finished the League with 1-52, a point clear of Colm O'Neill as the competition's top scorer and he'll most certainly get a chance against Offaly or Longford on May 31st at the start of the Leinster SFC.

"He's taken his opportunity very well," Gavin praised.

"We just asked him for a different role this year, to be starting games and to be kicking frees and he's doing that very well."


Whether or where one, some or all of Ciarán Kilkenny, Cormac Costello and Alan Brogan play remains unknown.

"One or two players have taken the opportunity and are really pushing hard for a place in the championship 21," Gavin acknowledged.

"That is what we are focussing on, it's five weeks away now. It's a good way to finish this phase of our campaign for the year.

"We have learned a lot, some things have worked for us, some haven't, that's part of the process really."

"There's a lot of players who are in the squad but haven't got game time and absolutely we'll be trying to give them chances in challenge games or any internal games we have."

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