independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Eugene McGee: Major dilemma for Gavin as young guns step up to plate

The sense of euphoria that surrounded Croke Park as the Dublin footballers slaughtered a feeble Cork effort presented manager Jim Gavin with his first major dilemma.

He will have to decide in a couple of months' time, when the league is over, how many of the talented young men at his disposal he will select in his championship squad. For most managers that would be a pleasant task, but in Dublin it will be different – football fans in the capital just don't do patience.

Gavin will have to move fast to identify who will be added to the remains of the All-Ireland winning 2011 panel. Looking at the younger Dubs on Saturday, one could admire the talents of Johnny Cooper, Kevin O'Brien, Jack McCaffrey and Darren Daly – and, of course, Ciaran Kilkenny must be added to that list.

It is interesting that none from that list started in midfield or attack, although a couple of other young guns did join the forward line off the bench.

The problem for Gavin is how to integrate young, talented players into a team where the majority are experienced performers with All-Ireland medals.

In theory, it seems to be an ideal situation, but only in the heat of a big Leinster championship game can young players be fully tested, both physically and psychologically. It promises to be an interesting season for Dublin – and the fans must show tolerance.

A concern for Dublin against Cork was the number of times their backline was opened up – the Rebels had numerous goal-scoring chances that a better team would have finished.

Cork started with a very much under-strength side, indicating that winning another league title is not their priority. Indeed, Cork's overall performance was fairly pathetic, with newcomer John O'Rourke from Carbery Rangers being one of the few bright spots, as he lofted over three excellent points.

If Cork are serious about regaining the All-Ireland title then they will need to stop messing about like they did on Saturday and against Donegal last summer.

Talking about the huge talent Cork have at their disposal is wearing thin by now – what they need is some real football action instead.

There has also been a great deal of talk about Kildare, but they have delivered little by way of tangible results despite several years of intensive planning and preparation.

Their long-suffering supporters can at least start the new season with signs of encouragement – mainly because of the arrival of a few new, young players.

The performances of Niall Kelly, Daniel Flynn and Padraig Fogarty were a breath of fresh air for Kildare, who play has been stereotyped in recent years.

A scoreline of 2-14 in early February is very encouraging and the power block that Kildare set up in the middle third of the field was impressive, and certainly left Donegal collecting no more than scraps for most of the game.

Of course, Kildare still engage in an orgy of lateral passing, but that is unlikely to change.

Donegal were quite a disappointment, even allowing for absentees, and but for a brilliant performance from Michael Murphy this would have been an embarrassing night out for the All-Ireland champions.

Even goalkeeper Paul Durcan was less than sure and gave away a terrible goal, which indicates how careless Donegal were.

It is likely that the first half of Donegal's year will be dominated by preparations for the opening championship game against Tyrone, which could prove costly in the league, but certainly many of their proven performers from 2012 were way below par on Saturday.

Their traditional tight marking was nowhere to be seen, and Kelly seemed to be given the freedom of Croke Park for the entire game – it was most unlike the Donegal of the last two years.

But as with all the teams in action at the weekend, we must emphasise the caveat that it is only early February, and measuring teams at this stage of the year is a pointless exercise.

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