O'Gara's tour de force
NEWS of Eoghan O'Gara's Portlaoise tour de force has spread capital-wide at this stage.
So, for the discerning Dublin supporter, the big question now is whether his brilliant performance, and 1-5 bounty, was merely an early-season aberration or encouraging evidence of a new, more rounded full-forward -- one with the ability to consistently strike fear into the hearts of any defence.
The recent testimony is hugely encouraging, though, both for the player and Pat Gilroy. His epic performance was the most striking feature of an otherwise fairly routine 1-14 to 1-9 win over Laois, a win which granted the Dubs their maiden points of this year's league in their first of six matches in six straight weekends.
In the absence of the injured Bernard Brogan and with his brother Alan making only a 26-minute cameo, it's also worth noting that on any other day, Diarmuid Connolly would have been a certain for Man Of The Match.
His classical stylings and recent coming-of-age may have been a more predictable developments than O'Gara's upsurge, but he was only marginally less influential, bagging 0-5 (1f) and taking out a herd of Laois defenders with a visionary handpass to put his Templeogue/Synge Street attacking colleague in for the decisive goal.
Yet O'Gara deservedly took the plaudits and reserved praise from his manager for a stunning display, one which undoubtedly ranks as the best of his Dublin career.
"We would be very happy with what Eoghan does," Gilroy offered afterwards. "Eoghan does a lot of unseen things. Okay tonight he got scores but he does a hell of a job for us every time he goes out. He gives you 100 per cent. There is loads of football in Eoghan ... I think you will see plenty more of that from him," he added somewhat ominously.
Gilroy has invested lots of faith and plenty of time in O'Gara and it looks now -- particularly in light of his Sigerson Cup performances for DCU last weekend -- like the dividends are being paid back.
What we knew previously about O'Gara was this: he could win ball like no other forward in Dublin and he prompted blind panic in defences with his unpredictable lines of running.
On Saturday night, we also saw an end-product and a much calmer, far more accurate and two-footed (1-3 off his right, 0-2 with his left) display.
It's also worth noting that his beleaguered marker on Saturday, Kieran Lillis, is no mug when it comes to curtailing an opponent but the Portlaoise man was truly tortured by the game's conclusion.
His raw strength dictates that O'Gara can and does win ball with great regularity and attracts plenty of defenders for fear of cutting a direct dash through on goal, thus opening up space for the more recognised marksmen in the Dublin ranks.
But on a couple of occasions after securing possession in front of a posse of Laois backs, he used his naturally explosive pace to arc away from their attentions and clip over at full pelt -- a downright unmarkable move when pulled off so clinically.
"This is the first time he has been free of injury," Gilroy added. "He is after getting two months where he has had full training and playing with the college has done him the world of good."
Connolly, though, was the more influential of the two in the first half, exploiting space and tying Cahir Healy up in knots, curling delicious point after delicious point over the bar from distance, mostly off his 'weaker' left foot. The chip-lift was Connolly's preferred mode of pick-up on Saturday and he performed each skillfully to inject immediate momentum into his runs.
They weren't the only two, though and Gilroy will have been particularly pleased with the defensive effort which, had Ross Munnelly's point effort not dipped under Michael Savage's crossbar in the 64th minute, would have limited Laois to just six points from play.
Darren Daly was tidy at corner-back -- as was Davy Byrne on the wing after his late inclusion for suspended club-mate James McCarthy and neither will be easily shifted from the team on Saturday's viewing.
Justin McNulty's belief that "If a few breaks had gone our way at vital times, if crucial scores had gone our way, I think it's certainly a game we could have won and possibly a game, in my eyes, we should have won" seems slightly at odds with how the game played out, though.
Munnelly's undoubtedly fortuitous goal made a game of it before O'Gara finished off the comeback, but that was only made possible by Dublin's failure to fully punish their opponents' lack of assurance in possession, registering 13 wides in total.
They also struggled for attacking fluency from midfield although Eamon Fennell did get back to force a couple of well-timed turnovers, a recurring theme for Laois over the 70 minutes.
"It is important that we have a panel," added Gilroy, in reference to the veritable glut of forward options he now has in attack ahead of next Sunday's visit of Armagh to Croke Park.
"We'll test that during the league and get as much out of fellas. We know we have to have more resources than we had last summer. If we got through the league and hadn't got fellas games it would be a waste. So this is important and it is good to get performances like that because some day maybe the two (Brogans) would be injured and we would have to play without them. So it is no harm at all."