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Thursday 17 August 2017

Dubs still have spring in step

Next up Tyrone as record run continues

Eric Lowndes (r) of Dublin in action against Cavan’s Gerard Smith during the Allianz League match at Kingspan Breffni Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Eric Lowndes (r) of Dublin in action against Cavan’s Gerard Smith during the Allianz League match at Kingspan Breffni Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Not every manager run over by the Dublin juggernaut is so fired with post-match optimism as Mattie McGleenan.

Then again, maybe it's because he is so new to his role in Cavan - or that Cavan are so new to Division 1.

"Listen," said McGleenan after Sunday's loss in Kingspan Breffni Park. "We are technically training on grass one month. This isn't an overnight process. Jim Gavin is four years down the road with his team; you can see his influence and the way they play. It's absolutely class.

"I admire what they do and I want to try and play a similar brand of attacking football. I'd be delighted with how we went against them - we had three or four really good scoring chances that we didn't take, and at this level they punish you."

Turnovers

So it proved as Cavan's return to the Allianz Football League elite ended in 0-18 to 0-11 defeat. Attacking turnovers translated quickly into Dublin points. Once the game moved beyond an evenly-balanced opening 20 minutes, the result was never in doubt.

And, with that, a new chapter was penned in this seemingly never-ending tale of Sky Blue consistency. Thirty league and championship games not out. Twenty-seven wins and three draws, dating back to March 1, 2015, and the last time Dublin suffered a competitive defeat other than in the pseudo-serious arena that is the O'Byrne Cup.

That happened in Killarney, when Dublin lost a fractious league battle with Kerry by 0-15 to 1-10. Having already lost in Cork, that meant two defeats from three - and it would have become three from four but for Dean Rock's late equalising goal at home to Tyrone a week later.

Since then, they have been a model of ultra-consistency. So much so that Brian Fenton - now a two-time All Star - has never lost a single game as a Dublin starter.

From inauspicious beginnings (coming off the bench for those early 2015 defeats to Cork and Kerry) Fenton has emerged as both a midfield totem and metaphor for stellar Sky Blue stability.

He marked his full debut in Clones that April with a goal inside four minutes. He missed the first two rounds of last year's league, returning as a sub against Monaghan. All of which means he has now started 24 NFL and SFC games, winning 22. Two epic draws with Mayo are the only minor blemishes on his record.

Fenton wasn't at his influential best against Cavan on Sunday but he didn't have to be. What caught the eye was both the commitment levels and sharpness of so many colleagues who were making their first appearance of 2017.

James McCarthy was the standout example, but several other seasoned comrades (notably Michael Darragh Macauley) looked full of vim and up for the twin challenges of chasing a fifth consecutive NFL crown and an All-Ireland three-in-a-row.

Gavin's decision to excuse last year's squad from O'Byrne Cup duty looks a shrewd call. Dublin resumed collective training later than usual because of their January trip to Jamaica; removing games from their compressed pre-season schedule had the twin benefits of allowing them more time on the training ground while offering the best of the wannabes a block of games to impress.

History

Of that rookie cohort, Niall Scully led the charge and deserved his breakthrough chance on Sunday. But it's the established core who will ultimately decide if Dublin can make history this spring and next summer.

Tougher tests await as they seek to embellish this 23-month unbeaten streak. Tyrone in Croker next Saturday, and Kerry in Tralee on March 18, leap from the page.

But one thing is clear, even more so after Sunday: they won't give it up lightly.

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