Seconds blow chance
HAD the result of yesterday's O'Byrne Cup dead rubber between Dublin and Wicklow even a modicum of significance resting upon it, the whole afternoon would have been labeled 'hugely frustrating' by Jim Gavin.
As it was, his makeshift team's 1-11 to 0-10 defeat in Parnell Park proved a useful exercise in deciphering which of the large cast of hopefuls currently known as the Dublin football panel will retain that status into the summer. "We used the game as an opportunity to give fellas who have been with us since the eighth of December a starting chance and a chance to stake a place in the squad for the National League," stated Gavin matter-of-factly. "So what I take from it is that those guys have been given the opportunity."
Asked then whether he had adjudged many to have seized the chance, the Dubs boss responded: "No. Only one or two did, to be blunt about it."
It was that sort of day for Dublin.
They were slick and stylish for all of six minutes of the first half and then hugely hotchpotch thereafter. Which, of course, is to be expected both in this embryonic stage of the season and with such a mishmash line-up.
But it was, as Gavin outlined, the ideal opportunity for someone to paint themselves on his league radar and in truth, very few - if any - managed it.
The Dubs, looking comfortable at 0-6 to 0-4 ahead after 25 minutes, then conceded 1-5 without reply before the break, Paul Earls bagging the goal after Austin O'Malley's goal chance was saved by Vinny Whelan in a first half when both enjoyed the freedom of Parnell Park, helping themselves to a combined 1-6 of Wicklow's eventual tally.
"We got the first two wins under our belt and that was the strategy all along so we could put ourselves in a position to qualify for the semi-final so we could give those players the opportunity to play at this level," Gavin explained. "To that end, it was a good exercise for us as a management group.
"It was a great opportunity to see those guys in a pressure situation and how they react," he added.
A statistic he repeated in his post-match assessment was that Dublin had created 16 scoring opportunities and took just four, in a period of the match where Wicklow scored just twice and were reduced to 14 men after Paul Cunningham's sending off for a second yellow card (52nd minute).
"It was just down to players not performing on the day," Gavin added. "Poor decision making."
Poor execution too. Of the 16 chances, at least eight could have been described as 'guilt-edged'. Even Paddy Andrews and Diarmuid Connolly - added to the half-time mix to restore some direction and experience to a flailing attack - found the going much tougher than they did in Dublin's two opening wins, with wayward, blocked and under-hit shots proving to be something of an unwanted speciality for the Dubs attack.
Connolly and Jack McCaffrey (another half-time addition and one of the few new men looking comfortable at this level) scutched excellent goal chances after doing most of the hard work but in truth, any sort of positive result for Dublin would merely have masked their shortcomings. It had started so well too, with Declan O'Mahony, Robbie McCarthy and Gary Sweeney putting Dublin 0-3 to 0-0 up in no time at all but cohesion was in short supply for most of the rest of the match.
Darragh Nelson did his claims no harm at all at corner-back and Ger Brennan (a fourth half-time substitution) sprayed the ball inventively from full-back but outside of that, positive contributions were limited.
O'Mahony grabbed two points and could find himself playing a part in the league but Wicklow's James Stafford was the game's most influential midfielder. Similarly, Paul Hudson claimed four points (two frees) but took wrong options at the end when the Dubs were rallying.
"That wouldn't be too far off what we have available to us at the moment," was Wicklow manager Harry Murphy's assessment. "We know that Dublin weren't at full strength but we would be happy enough with it."
Gavin, meanwhile, is learning about his panel but just as wins over Carlow and DCU didn't make them All-Ireland favourites, yesterday's performance wasn't entirely detrimental.
"We're not going to use the guillotine based on one performance," he insisted. "Most of those guys have gotten opportunities in the last two games. And again, we'll use a blend for the next game (v Louth next Sunday in Drogheda, 2.0).
"It's the O'Byrne Cup," Gavin added. "It's the third week of January. There's a long way to go in the season for me to see players and for players to show their potential."