Late start might curb Dubs drive
A fifth League title in succession may be too great an ask as Dublin's main men ease their way back
It's around about this time of year we hear that familiar refrain about the All-Ireland champions and how they don't need to win the soon-to-commence League.
The theory goes that their best interests would be served drawing as little attention to themselves pre-July or August when the finer points of a tactical reconstruction are unleashed on an unsuspecting rival.
Similarly, we tend to hear plenty about how all those men who did the heavy lifting the previous September would be as well to put the feet up until at least the clock goes forward and preserve their weary limbs for those games post-August between the All-Ireland contenders that have become such wars in the past few years.
Yet Dublin have won it as defending All-Ireland champions in 2014 and last year if anything, Gavin's team have contracted energy from how they have finished the League in each of his four previous season in charge.
Are things any different this year?
Probably. And it should influence their capacity to do the spring five-in-a-row before attempting the little matter of the All-Ireland three-in-a-row.
By simple virtue of the fact that their last match of 2016 was played on the first day of October and the knock-on effect on their team holiday, Dublin are in their preparations for this season now where they were on the second week of January last year.
So the squad are accordingly shy on fitness and preparation.
Secondly, Gavin is likely to field more experimental teams in this year's League, particularly in the early stages.
The likes of Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn are unlikely to play in either of their first two matches and no harm either in the context of their various knocks, niggles and advancing years.
Diarmuid Connolly is with St Vincent's until further notice. Jonny Cooper is suspended for tomorrow's trip to Cavan.
And even if the squad that won the O'Byrne Cup produced more capable League candidates than even Jim Gavin or Paul Clarke might have hoped, the step up over the next few weeks will be drastic.
Secondly, almost every time Dublin have been beaten lately, it has come in the early months of the year. In total, they've lost just four League games in four years, namely to Cork (March 2014 and February 2015), Tyrone (March 2013) and Kerry (March 2015).
Amazingly, their only loss in four seasons under Gavin after St Patrick's Day is that All-Ireland semi-final destruction by Donegal in 2014.
So between the late start, the high number of absentees, the mileage of some of their most vital players and Dublin's relative vulnerability at the start of the year, they might take a little longer to find a groove in 2017.
Added to that is the fact that there are no League semi-finals this year, meaning Dublin will have to make the top two to qualify for this year's final.
Any sluggishness or inconsistency will be punished.
Against that, their fourth place finish in 2014 is the only time Dublin haven't been in the top-two spots in the table under Gavin.
For all that, Cavan are novices at this level and are in the throes of adapting to a new manager after a disappointing finish to last year.
They're also without some of their best players in Gearóid McKiernan, Cian Mackey and Raymond Galligan, though McKiernan and Galligan have been named in reserve for tomorrow. Gerard Smith, Fergal Reilly and Niall Clerkin will make their League debuts.
And even if Dublin's cubs ultimately find the climb too steep, they're in sufficient fitness and form to prosper just now, when Gavin needs them most.
Whatever turbulence Dublin encounter over the early part of this year, tomorrow should prove a smooth afternoon.
ODDS: Cavan 11/4, Draw 8/1, Dublin 4/11
- Cavan v Dublin (Breffni Park, Tomorrow, 2.0) Live TG4