herald

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Four Wee lessons for Jim as Dubs find a groove

Gavin has big decisions and a Small option to consider after routing Louth

Dublin powerhouse James McCarthy could be utilised at midfield
Dublin powerhouse James McCarthy could be utilised at midfield

It's an old lament. What can you hope to learn from such a gruesome mis-match?

Then again, if you're manager of the Dublin football team, outclassing your latest provincial opponent by a margin in the ball park of 20 to 30 points is not a new phenomenon.

It's happened before - Longford by 27 points in 2015, Westmeath by 31 in 2017, Wicklow by 23 in 2018 - without ever becoming an educational impediment. Jim Gavin is accustomed to reviewing the scene of a massacre, sifting through the evidence to see where Dublin were good and where they can be better.

So it was with Saturday night's Portlaoise cakewalk at the expense of Louth - this time by 26 points, the third highest championship victory margin of Gavin's reign in this, his 40th outing. Here are four lessons that leap from the lopsided page ...

Cormac's ready

The evidence of the league suggested Cormac Costello was more than ready to be entrusted with a starting jersey in championship. The evidence of Saturday night (only his third ever SFC start) is that he's more than an able deadball deputy for Dean Rock.

With Rock ruled out through injury, Costello assumed placed ball duties and - for the most part - did so with unerring brilliance. Nine out of nine (one '45' and eight frees) in the first half, he added two more frees in the second. It wasn't foot-perfect: early in the half he fluffed a routine effort against the post, but gobbled up the rebound to land his only point from play, while a subsequent '45' trailed wide.

Still, a tally of 1-12 (1-1 from play) allied to plenty of sharp movement constituted a toweringly prolific night's work.

Midfield question

Who to partner the peerless Brian Fenton? That remains a very live debate after Darren Gavin - metaphorically at least - failed to grab the ball and run with it on his SFC baptism.

Even amid the one-way traffic, it was an uncomfortable debut for the Lucan clubman, terminated after 41 minutes. His decorated replacement, Michael Darragh Macauley, produced a typically energetic cameo, fisting a point-blank goal, winning a converted free and providing the assist for Costello's goal.

The big question is whether Gavin believes his namesake is worth another chance; whether he prefers holding back Macauley for his near-guaranteed impact; or whether team mainstays such as James McCarthy or Brian Howard might be moved from elsewhere.

Both of the above excelled around the middle-third against Louth, albeit from different starting positions, offering reshuffle options.

Cian's role

For much of the last four campaigns, Cian O'Sullivan has been the glue that knits Dublin's defensive unit together. As a sweeper, able to spot the danger signals almost before they materialise, he has few equals. Where O'Sullivan can look less assured, especially in recent times, is when pressed into a man-marking role.

He started at full-back on Saturday, marking Ryan Burns; but Louth's most dangerous attacker beat him to the first two balls, scoring a point and then creating another spurned opening for a teammate.

Mick Fitzsimons was promptly switched onto Burns, to solid effect.

Dublin have obvious man-marking options in the full-back line - Jonny Cooper is sure to return once fit, while Rory O'Carroll resumed his Sky Blue career off the bench and didn't do his recall prospects any harm.

As for O'Sullivan, once his vulnerable hamstrings stay strong, he remains pivotal to the cause.

Small's big impact

Even amid the second-half carnage, as Macauley and Philly McMahon plundered goals, one substitute stood out: Paddy Small.

John's younger brother has endured a stop-start senior career, with injuries a recurring obstacle, but he looked sharp as a whippet in his 27 minutes on the pitch.

His selflessness was another feature, reflected in his assist for Macauley's goal, slick offload to Macauley in the build-up to Costello's goal and lay-off for a Ciarán Kilkenny point. His own 0-1 haul didn't tell half the story.

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