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Top Dubs still have boxes to tick before Lilies

THIS column saw four goals, 50 points and 46 wides – all in the flesh! – last weekend. If that sounds either like a bizarre hurling match or a Féile blitz, we should clarify that the aforementioned stats-fest is the end product of two National Football League matches: Dublin out-swashbuckling Mayo on Saturday night, Kildare squeezing past Kerry on Sunday.

At this time of year, though, it's not always the result that you take away from a venue but the lessons contained therein.

Are Team X the real deal? Are Team Y in crisis? Is Player Z (let's hypothetically call him Bernard of the Brogans) about to usurp Messi, Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as the most audacious scoring machine on the planet?

Thus, with one eye on next Sunday's table-topping collision of Sky Blue and Lilywhite foes, some random lessons from the weekend just gone ...

1 Dublin and Mayo should play each other every week. Then we've have no talk of "football in crisis" and no need for weighty tomes from the FRC either.

2 Just how good are Kildare? Taken at face value, eight wins from eight, including four in a row against the last four All-Ireland champions, augurs positively.

Yet their curate's egg display, even in victory over a misfiring Kerry, begs the question whether they'll still be punching above their weight once the main contenders are at championship pace.

Given Dublin's current rude health, next Sunday should offer a more definitive yardstick.

3 Dublin may be rampant up front but they'll give you chances at the back. Now, this may not be immediately apparent from a quick perusal of the stats (three league wins from three, a healthy scoring difference of +20, just two goals conceded) but there are signs, thus far, that Jim Gavin's more orthodox defensive system is prone to coughing up goal chances once the original man-marker is left in his opponent's slipstream.

A poorish Cork scored two goals and were denied two more by Stephen Cluxton. Mayo twice carved open Dublin's full-back line in the closing minutes, for a paltry one-point return.

Pat Gilroy placed huge store on a zonal defence system designed to clog up space in the goalscoring channel; several individual defenders have impressed under Gavin's watch but his system remains a work in progress.

4 Teenage wonderkids can be main men on the '40'. Kieran McGeeney has placed his faith in a teenage rookie for the pivotal playmaking role.

Thus far, Niall Kelly has looked every inch the centre-forward part – and last Sunday wasn't by any means his best display yet.

The prolific underage achievements of Ciarán Kilkenny are already the stuff of Sky Blue legend but, when parachuted in for his NFL debut on Saturday night, he too was given a deeper role.

Kilkenny (pictured left) wasn't spectacular but you could still see, in his composed distribution, that he has the footballing brain to thrive out there ... no bad thing for the Castleknock man, given the fierce competition for places inside.

5 Dublin's midfield diamond – some burning questions. Given their half-back riches, might Ger Brennan pay a greater long-term price beyond his looming suspension?

Who will join Michael Darragh Macauley (presuming he's there) in Gavin's summer engine-room? There are options – the veteran Denis Bastick; the prodigal Declan O'Mahony, despite some errant moments against Mayo; the athletic alternative offered by Cian O'Sulivan and James McCarthy – but not a luxury of choice either.

6 Dublin players need to back up their manager's strong words on discipline with action ... or rather less action of the retaliatory, red-mist variety. With three sendings-off in the last four outings, this one explains itself.


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