herald

Sunday 20 April 2014

League of their own

THE dawn of a new Dublin management invariably prompts a city-wide debate over which of the old playing guard will be retained, who will be cast aside and, most interesting of all, which young faces will be used to fashion the metaphorical 'stamp' the new man will brand upon his reign.

In 2002, Tommy Lyons introduced a fresh-faced Alan Brogan and Barry Cahill to Dublin seniordom while 'Pillar' Caffrey blooded Mark Vaughan and Stephen O'Shaughnessy in his own maiden league campaign as manager.

Pat Gilroy waited until after the 2009 Kerry collapse before wreaking considerable upheaval but then, wasted no time in giving the likes of James McCarthy, Rory O'Carroll, Michael Darragh Macauley and Kevin McManamon their inter-county stripes.

Undoubtedly, Jim Gavin is in a much more privileged position to his most immediate predecessors.

He himself orchestrated All-Ireland wins in two of the last three U-21 campaigns, while two separate minor teams, under the management of Dessie Farrell, have contested September finals, with last year's vintage finally scratching a 28-year Dublin itch for ultimate minor glory.

Each of those teams has spawned a cluster of players with the potential to make it at the top level and, duly, Gavin has given many their first taste of senior action over the course of a largely productive January.

Here, on the eve of Gavin's first league selection, we examine the cases of three complete and three relative newcomers to the Dublin fold, all likely to make gain significant gametime over the course of the spring.

Jack McCaffrey

PROBABLY Gavin's 'find' of January. Along with Kevin O'Brien, Emmett ó Conghaile and Ciarán Kilkenny, was drafted quickly into Pat Gilroy's senior set-up on the back of his U-21 exploits and made a brief cameo against Laois in last year's All-Ireland SFC quarter-final. Speed, undoubtedly, is McCaffrey's greatest attribute, his defensive skills are sharp, but it is his eye for the counter-attack which sets him apart.

Of more than 1,000 athletes tested by the National Athlete Development Academy (NADA) - Dublin's current training base - McCaffrey tested the quickest and, last February, caught the eye of Tadhg Kennelly at an Aussie Rules recruitment camp in Tallaght.

"He did a 20-metre sprint and if he was over in Australia he would have been the top sprinter in the actual draft last year, which is the top 18-year-olds in the country," said the former Kerry star after the Clontarf man clocked 2.80 seconds.

Eric Lowndes

PLAYED two years at minor level with Dublin and by last season, and their All-Ireland crowning moment, Lowndes had hardened his reputation as a hard-working and impressively commanding wing-back.

Schooled in St Peter's Dunboyne, Lowndes might equally have chosen to opt for hurling this year, so talented is he at both codes, but faces stiff competition in arguably Dublin's strongest line of the pitch.

Along with Robbie McCarthy, he became the first St Peregrine's man to get a run with Dublin since Ciarán McGuinness in the last year of Tommy Carr's regime (2001).

EMMETT O CONGHAILE

GIVEN Gavin's relative dearth of viable centrefield options, O Conghaile's emergence could transpire to be a godsend for Dublin over the next couple of years, although it remains to be seen if he is sufficiently physically developed for the bustle of senior inter-county midfield just yet.

Produced a stunning second-half performance in last year's All-Ireland U-21 final, devouring a succession of Roscommon kickouts at a time when Dublin were struggling for possession and complemented with his pace and natural athleticism, could yet see a run at wing-forward this spring.

CIARAN KILKENNY

WHATEVER about Australian recognition and, more recently, defection, Kilkenny's pedigree and ability in Gaelic football is as proven as any 19-year-old in Ireland right now.

Stats alone don't tell the complete story but 0-41 (0-13f) in seven games for the 2011 Dublin minors, 2-30 (0-8f) in six from last year's under-21s and 0-3 from play in his only senior start to date - last year's All-Ireland semi-final - paint a hugely prolific picture.

That's an average of five points per game over the past three years across the main age groups and doesn't even begin to tell the tale of Kilkenny's strength and maturity.

Will, without doubt - and barring injury - feature in this year's league once Castleknock's journey in the All-Ireland Club JFC has reached its conclusion.

CORMAC COSTELLO

Another just out of minor but already making a case. Stood out on a talented team noted for its wealth of natural inside forwards and kicked 5-26 (0-9f) in seven championship games for Farrell's young colts, including a contender for Goal of the Season against Kerry in the All-Ireland MFC semi-final.

Already he has scored a point on his senior debut as a substitute against Louth in Drogheda and two points last weekend against Kildare in the O'Byrne Cup final.

PAUL MANNION

A FORMER underage Irish soccer international, Mannion's rise over the past year has been notable. He was a member of Gavin's U-21 panel; left mid-season and was then recalled and scored the last goal of their All-Ireland final win over Roscommon.

Prior to that he was a fleet-footed inside forward on the Dublin minor team of 2011 that was narrowly beaten by Tipperary in the All-Ireland decider.

From there, he established himself as Kilmacud Crokes' most dangerous forward in the 2012 Dublin SFC, including a breathtaking display of balling-winning against St Brigid's in the county semi-final in scoring 0-6 (3f).

A viable option as a left-footed free-taker, an area Dublin have struggled to consistently fill since Conal Keaney's move to the hurlers.

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