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Thursday 8 December 2016

Lessons learned before summer really hits for the Dubs

Benny Heron, Derry, in action against John Small, Dublin
Benny Heron, Derry, in action against John Small, Dublin

Dublin have impressed and endured during this spring campaign, leaving boss Jim Gavin with plenty to mull over

Five areas of spring comfort for the Dubs

DEFENSIVE GAINS

In seven Division 1 matches in 2014, Dublin conceded 8-91 or 16.4 points per match.

Over the same gallop this year, they gave up 2-68, or an average of 12 points.

More significantly, Dublin have demonstrated an adaptability that hasn’t  always been the case under Jim Gavin.

Some sit deep and guard space now. Others still press the ball. As Donegal last year proved, the more predictable the Dubs, the more vulnerable.

FINAL PUSH

“We have our sights set on the end of May, if I’m honest,” said Gavin during an earlier rocky patch.

Nevertheless, they beat Mayo, Monaghan and Derry in the last three matches of the League to reach Sunday’s semi-final, a reminder that when it has been put up to this Dublin team, they tend to deliver.

JOHN SMALL

Man of the Match against Donegal, Small was injured playing in the Trench Cup, the sort of hardship which might have slammed a young player’s (22) window of opportunity closed but in his second incarnation as a Dublin senior, Small has taken his chance.

Physically strong with a good positional sense and clever distribution skills...if Gavin can’t get Ger Brennan back fit, he’ll at least have a similar fitting replacement.

DENIS BASTICK

Given his presence in or around the Dublin senior panel for most of the last decade, hardly a ‘find’ in the same way as Small but Dublin were thin on back-up/competition in midfield last year and practically parched of stylistic alternatives. Re-enter – after shoulder, knee and hamstring injuries – the 33 year-old Templeogue/Synge Street man.

In a dozen League and O’Byrne Cup matches this year, Bastick has started 10.

His amazing block-and-gather from a nailed-on Mark Ronaldson goal chance in Castlebar was undoubtedly the highlight of his splendid spring thus far. Tomás Brady and perhaps Shane Carthy, has granted Gavin other viable midfield options.

RUDE HEALTH

Hip and groin are the ‘trendiest’ GAA injuries out there and Dublin have suffered plenty.

James McCarthy was encumbered, to some degree, for almost two years.

Paul Flynn tweaked his before the All-Ireland quarter-final with Monaghan and Cian O’Sullivan could barely walk down the stairs the day after the Donegal loss, so acute was his physical pain.

All have undergone operations and are back and fit. Ciarán Kilkenny, separately, has returned from his cruciate rehab, too.

And five areas of concern

BLANKET INCONSISTENCY

Numbers don’t lie. On March 7, Dublin scored 1-9 against Tyrone, their lowest tally in either League or Championship under Gavin.

A tally that looked comparatively ostentatious to the 0-8 they got three weeks later against an equally densely populated Derry defence.

The only sure thing is that they’ll have to deal with it more often than not from here until the climax of their season.

EOGHAN O’GARA

Which leads neatly to the cruel cruciate misfortuneof O’Gara.

One of the few players in Ireland with both the pace and strength to keep possession through multiple would-be tacklers, Dublin will miss O’Gara this summer.

GOALlKEEPER WORRIES

‘How will Dublin cope when Cluxton hangs up his gloves/boots?’ is a rhetorical query pondered so regularly as to have entered the realms of cliché but it got another million or so airings after Seán Currie’s kick-out struggles in Killarney.

Under’21 ’keeper Lorcan Mollo, meanwhile, got precisely no League time.

Whatever about future retirement, Dublin should be petrified of potential injury to their number one.

RECLAIMED KINGDOM

Not a major thing, but a thing nonetheless. Dublin had won six of the last seven meetings with Kerry prior to their trip to Killarney on March 1, a spiteful game when advantage was ceded.

You couldn’t escape the feeling that day, or a week later, when they facilitated a big Cork win with a meek performance, that the Kingdom were cherry-picking their spring scalps.

EASTERN STRUGGLES

Not a problem of Dublin’s making but the slide of counties who might just give Dublin a game pre-August continues at avalanche velocity.

Westmeath and Kildare suffered successive relegations meaning no other Leinster team - again - will keep Dublin company in Division 1 of the League in 2016.

Only Meath and Laois will play in Division 2 and neither of those showed traces of the sort of conspicuous improvement required to push Dublin into the extremities of their abilities.

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