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Saturday 25 November 2017

A bolt for new Blues

WITH January nearly done and the O’Byrne Cup over for Dublin; February, Croke Park and Kerry now loom darkly on the horizon.

And if Kildare had a stuffed bag of reasons to put one over the Dubs last Sunday, Kerry surely have a skipfull.

The reality that Dublin could be without a third of their All-Ireland starting team for February 4 is one made all the more stark when that posse of possible absentees includes Bernard (who returned home from Australia this morning) and Alan Brogan (who declared himself fit for selection this afternoon). That is . . . . the two most recent recipients of the Footballer of the Year award and the source of most things good about the blue attack.

On paper, at least, the Dublin forward alignment looks far less threatening. Particularly so if Diarmuid Connolly has a case to answer following an incident in Newbridge at the weekend and the inside forward line that started last September 18 is missing completely.

“Alan and Bernard have been key men for us the last couple of years and they’ve been our main scorers as well,” noted Cian O’Sullivan, a man who who has tackled both the absent stars and the pretenders to their jerseys on a weekly basis in Dublin training.

“So it will be up to new lads to step up and take that responsibility. It will be interesting to see. Lads like Míceal McCarthy have done well and there are a few more lads coming through. It will be great to see them put their name down and make a mark for themselves.”

The league and Dublin haven’t always dovetailed particularly well, but in the last two years at least, a progressive (league) campaign has proved a useful preamble to successful championship campaigns.

Against that, Dublin are possibly in a no-win situation with the advent of spring, in the eyes of the public at least. Fail to mount a credible bid to make the final and the murmurs of lacking hunger and accusations of post All-Ireland softening become audible.

Sweep all before them and the 2011 champions become the 2012 champions-elect. The internal reality, according to O’Sullivan, is somewhat different.

“We set out the way we want to play the game and the things we want to improve on,” he explained.

“That’s our focus of the game rather than just trying to win it.

“A natural by-product of that in the last few years was that we were getting results. We keep on trying to focus on what we need to improve on and hopefully, the results will come.

“But there is no doubt that there is a strong link between a good league performance and a good championship.

“You can’t just turn it on in championship. You need to do the work in the league and in the O’Byrne Cup. That’s the kind of preparation that will get you right for the championship.”

Naturally, O’Sullivan is looking forward to the league more than most.

He didn’t kick a ball in ‘competitive action’ for Dublin last season prior to August and then there is the question about where he will be stationed.

Corner-back against Tyrone and Donegal, O’Sullivan switched to wing-back when James McCarthy went off in the All-Ireland final and it’s a freedom which he hopes to be granted again at some point this year.

“Any player you ask would rather be out in the half-back line rather than stuck in the corner,” he stressed.

“You get more ball, you get to attack a bit as well and it’s a much more enjoyable position to play. I definitely prefer to play there. But the main goal is just to get a place on the team, particularly for the Kerry game.

“It’s going to be a great game, I anticipate, given that the final was only four months ago. The fashion in which we won the final, I’m sure Kerry will be eager to give us a good game.

“It’s the first league game of the year but every time you play Kerry, there is that added incentive of a Dublin v Kerry fixture.

“But the key thing for us is to try and improve and not let that rivalry blur our goals for every match of the year,” concluded the Kilmacud Crokes man.

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