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Friday 20 April 2018

Dublin's mid-term report shows huge work now required

Constant: Goalkeeper Alan Nolan
Constant: Goalkeeper Alan Nolan

When Pat Gilroy assumed office, the general consensus was that things couldn't possibly sink any lower for Dublin but in basic terms of League results, his opening year has been worse than any of Ger Cunningham's.

Expectations that they might challenge for promotion with Limerick and Galway were exploded on the first night when they were hammered by Offaly.

Which only ranked as their second worst performance of the League after a septic display in the Gaelic Grounds and a 12-point loss to a Limerick team who finished at half-pace.

Their two wins, against Laois and Antrim, hardly rank as achievements.

And save for minutes 25 to 60 against Galway and the first 20 last Sunday against Tipperary, they've been miles off the pace of any of hurling's more established sides.

DEFENCE

Alan Nolan, Paddy Smyth, Bill O'Carroll, Chris Crummey and Shane Barrett are the only players to start every League game this year, while Eoghan O'Donnell played five of six, suggesting some stability there.

They may have conceded just four goals this spring - one of Gilroy's stated areas for immediate improvement - but they also conceded more points (110) than any team in the top two divisions, other than Cork.

Crummey was Dublin's best player throughout and the ankle injury he suffered in Croke Park last Sunday will be a major worry.

It would, however, appear likely that Cian O'Callaghan and one of Seán Moran or Liam Rushe will end up in Gilroy's starting back six.

ATTACK

At 35, Conal Keaney was arguably their most consistent forward through the League, although Danny Sutcliffe's ascent back to his best form continues apace.

Making ball stick up front has been a problem - as has the creation of goal scoring chances.

In that regard, injuries to Cian Boland, Cian O'Sullivan and Eamonn Dillon have been less than ideal while both Paul Winters and Donal Burke have had spells of both bad and good on free-taking duties.

STYLE

Their early devotion to dropping midfielders and half-forwards into their own '65 in an effort to guard against conceding goals saw Offaly and Limerick rain points over from distance.

Dublin's heightened physicality almost cost them in Belfast when Neil McManus scored 11 frees.

As suggested by Brendan Cummins on League Sunday, they could have done with an extra man in defence last Sunday as Tipp ran riot, but it's possible Gilroy wanted to conceal his tactical hand so early in the year given the absence of so many players.

PERSONNEL

Gilroy used 37 players in this year's League, five more than any other Division 1A or 1B manager.

Some of the returnees, like Shane Durkin, Peter Kelly and Joey Boland didn't play a minute due to injury while others like Rushe, Dillon, Cian Boland and O'Sullivan were consigned to minimal involvement.

All eyes are on Cuala now. How many of their All-Ireland winners are asked in and which ones accept, no-one knows yet.

But there's no doubt they will improve the quality of the squad if and when they arrive.

PROSPECTS

Almost impossible to read but it is pertinent to note that although he made no excuses after bad results or performances, Gilroy's sights have been trained on "making us really hard to beat in summer," and their form has been heavily influenced by the sort of training the group have been put through.

Few enough of his new players shone this spring and too many didn't play at all, either through injury or club involvement.

The Dublin SHC starts again on April 5, with a second round ending on Saturday the 21, just three weeks before they take on Kilkenny at Parnell Park in the first round of the Leinster SHC.

On the evidence of what we've seen so far, it's hard to see how the squad, as it was for the League, can be competitive in a province containing the current All-Ireland champions, Division 1A's form side Wexford and Kilkenny.

Neither is it certain that a raft of Cuala players will come back or knit into a coherent team with such little time together between now and the start of the Leinster SHC.

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