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Wednesday 28 September 2016

Six of the best in Leinster - but lots for Gavin to ponder as the All-Ireland bar is raised

Dublin manager Jim Gavin (right) shakes hands with Westmeath boss Tom Cribbin after the game.
Dublin manager Jim Gavin (right) shakes hands with Westmeath boss Tom Cribbin after the game.

So, the Delaney Cup has been siphoned away for another 12-month stay in the capital. It's hard to see when anyone - be it Meath or Kildare, let alone Westmeath - will be able to take it from the Dubs.

Over their three Leinster matches, the average winning margin was exactly 12 points - well down on last year's figure which fell just shy of 20.

The flip side is that Dublin have been (a) playing within themselves and (b) content to patiently probe for point-scoring openings when faced by a defensive wall.

But there is still an obvious sense that the All-Ireland holders aren't playing close to maximum potential.

A case of aiming to peak in August/September? Quite possibly, because this was never going to be a requirement in the killing fields of Leinster. But from here on the bar will be raised and there are several areas in need of fine-tuning. Such as ...

DEFENCE: Jim Gavin was adamant afterwards that James McCarthy will be available for the quarter-finals - just as well because to lose one half of last year's All-Ireland-winning defence (following on from the overseas departures of Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey) would leave them vulnerable.

Eric Lowndes, McCarthy's replacement yesterday, was subbed at half-time. Gavin could afford to front-load with attackers (replacing Lowndes with Paddy Andrews) because of Westmeath's defensive set-up; that option won't be available every day.

AERIAL THREAT: There were further signs, during the first half at least, that a full-back line lacking O'Carroll's formidable presence can be exposed under the high ball.

Westmeath lacked the finishing finesse to punish this perceived weakness with goals, but some rival managers will have noted some flashes of Dublin discomfort.

FENTON'S FOIL: In just his second season, Brian Fenton is firmly established as Dublin's No 1 midfielder.

That mantle used to belong to Michael Darragh Macauley, but the former Footballer of the Year didn't cover himself in glory in his 48 minutes here.

Diarmuid Connolly came alive around the middle during the third quarter, claiming two kickouts in soaring fashion, before he too was replaced by Fenton's other most obvious partner, the enduring Denis Bastick.

GOAL ISSUE: Those two late goals from Bernard Brogan and Kevin McManamon masked the fact that Dublin had gone some three hours and 13 minutes (excluding injury-time) since last they found the net, twice in the opening five minutes, against Laois.

DISCIPLINE: James Dolan tapped Connolly on the head and provoked a more aggressive reaction from the Vincent's man, who grabbed Dolan in a headlock and pulled him to the ground.

Both players were booked; rule-book pedants may well argue that Connolly could have seen black for a deliberate pull-down.

Either way, Dublin can expect far more provocation from here on in: keeping their heads will be crucial.

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