Super Blues send out signal of major intent
IT was very comfortable, in fact it was just too easy, for Dublin as they opened their 2012 account with a very one-sided victory against Louth yesterday. Not too many people turned up at Croke Park to see it but the message will go out loud and clear that the Dubs are going to be very difficult to beat again this year.
There were no signs of mental fatigue or flakiness which comes from months of partying in fact the team looked as hungry and determined to lay down a marker early in the championship and right from the throw-in went about the business of winning the game in a calm and very 'professional' manner.
The game began as last year's All-Ireland final finished with a Stephen Cluxton dead ballkick and after that Dublin settled into their rhythm and played some sublime football in the opening 35 minutes.
To be fair to Louth they hung in for about 30 minutes but Dublin managed to find the net twice before the interval and that really killed the game as a contest; the first strike from Bernard Brogan was superb after collecting a great pass from his big brother Alan.
The second goal came seconds later after a great run from Paul Flynn - Bernard needed two bites at the cherry before sliding a left footed shot inside the upright.
That score pushed the Dubs out of sight and allowed Pat Gilroy to make a few changes in the second period which will surely keep the lads on their toes over the coming weeks.
The squad of players is extremely strong and with more competition to come from the U21 players, who have been added to the panel, the immediate future looks very positive.
They, of course, have some way to go before they can hope to push into the first team because the regulars who delivered last year looked very hungry and disciplined yesterday which would suggest that the minds are very much on the job of defending their provincial and All-Ireland titles and that is bad news for every other team out there.
All the problems with discipline through the league never surfaced yesterday and it was a clinical performance which was based on hard work and energy and also it was clear that the team was playing with plenty of confidence.
If anything the team seemed to play with more freedom yesterday than at any time last year but the fundamentals are still in place.
The defence looked very solid again and apart from one or two early scares they weren't really tested and that is as much down to the system they play rather than the lack of quality from the opposition.
Everyone in the defence understands what's required from them individually and collectively and all six go about their business without much fuss. The tackling was top class and that is a result of several years of hard work.
They turnover ball and break quickly without being cavalier and it is going to take a good forward line to get the better of them. Dublin had to start the game without regular midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley but such is the strength of the squad that Denis Bastick was able to step in and we all know what he gives to this side.
The strength in depth of the squad is now as good as ever and the lads know that they need to find something more if they are going to hang onto their Leinster and All-Ireland crowns but yesterday's performance would suggest that there is still lots in the tank.
I think that the forward line too is now starting to produce the type of sublime football that we always knew they could produce. All six starters can kick with both feet and yesterday all six chipped in with scores in the opening half.
That will make it very difficult for opposing defences to hold them and that takes some of the pressure of the Brogans who will come in for some closer attention this year.
Yesterday's game was a very one-sided affair because of the difference in quality between the two teams but I felt that Dublin were hard done by on a few occasions by referee Eddie Kinsella. The feelgood factor towards the Dubs always disappears after an All-Ireland winning year and that might be an issue when the games get tighter later in the summer.
All in all it was a very good opening day for Gilroy's men and they have four weeks to prepare for a semi-final against either Wexford or Longford who managed a draw yesterday in a very exciting game.
Longford continue their unbeaten run but had to rely on a last minute equaliser and both teams will go at it again next weekend. Longford bring a lot of players back behind the ball but break quickly and use the foot pass to good affect into their full-forward line.
It is a good tactic but when you are playing with the breeze as they were in the opening half they would be better off pushing players further up the field. They nearly paid the price in the second half as Wexford got themselves into a winning position.
The winner of the replay will have it all to do against the Dubs in Croke Park on July 1 and it is a huge incentive for both. For the Dubs it's business as usual and a very impressive performance will do wonders for confidence. They will be very hard to beat this year.