AS an experienced pilot, new Dublin manager Jim Gavin will have been pleased by his side's take-off, high-altitude and landing manoeuvres around Dr Cullen Park but less impressed by the manner in which they flew straight into the turbulence whipped up by Carlow in the second quarter.
Dublin jetted well clear of Carlow in the first quarter, leading by five points and looking very much as if they would have comfortably secured their first win of the year by half-time. Instead, they were blown off course by Carlow's gritty defiance and lost the second quarter by 0-7 to 1-3.
Dublin won the second half by 2-4 to 1-4 in a period which both sides mixed the good with the mediocre in a typical seasonal opener.
"A satisfying start to the campaign," was Gavin's assessment, while Anthony Rainbow, who is also embarking on a new adventure as a county manager, described it as a game where Carlow would be "taking a lot more positives than negatives".
Their plus points included a determined second-quarter recovery, which left them trailing by four points (1-9 to 0-8) at half-time, a solid response to being hit for two goals in the third quarter and a battling finish that yielded 1-1 and closed out the day's scoring.
Significantly, too, Brendan Murphy made an earlier-than-expected return to action, coming in as a sub after 50 minutes and, despite being some way behind on his fitness levels after recovering from a lacerated kidney, made a big contribution to Carlow's dogged pursuit of their vaunted rivals.
"It's great to be back. I enjoyed being involved again and hopefully I can kick on from here," said Murphy, for whom February/March was the expected return time after he sustained the kidney injury in an army game.
Dublin had experienced players dotted across every line (Stephen Cluxton, Ger Brennan, Michael Darragh Macauley, who was forced out with a leg injury after 17 minutes, Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon) and used five subs, most of whom did well. So too did newcomers to the starting line-up, Eric Lowndes, Robert McCarthy and Paddy Quinn.
"It was a game where we tried a lot of guys out and others were coming back from a hard season last year," said Gavin.
Dublin supporters in the crowd of 1,500 were, of course, watching out for any discernible change of pattern as Gavin takes over from Pat Gilroy, who was in charge for the last four seasons. It was noticeable during the warm-up that Dublin devoted quite some time to target practice from various distances and angles, a policy which may have helped in their opening burst of enterprise, which took them five points clear after 11 minutes.
Dublin's clever mix of the short and long game stretched Carlow, forcing them into conceding frees in various sectors of the pitch (the count was 7-0 to Dublin) after 14 minutes. Dublin used the long ball quite effectively in that period but Gavin wouldn't say if it was reliable pointer to future intentions.
"It's one of the game plays we're looking at. We have a menu of them – we'll mix it up as we go through the O'Byrne Cup and the league," he said.
He will, no doubt, be holding a debrief to ascertain why Carlow were allowed back into contention in the second quarter, a period when the only real highlight for Dublin was Connolly's excellent solo goal in the 22nd minute.
Carlow were much more enterprising at that stage with Brian Murphy, Ray Walker, Derek Hayden and Darragh Foley leading the charge. Indeed, if Carlow were a little more accurate with their passing and finishing, they would have been much closer at half-time.
Goals in the third quarter from McCarthy (a well-constructed effort in which several Dublin players were involved) and Quinn (he availed of slack marking when a long-range free broke in front of goal) left Dublin leading by 3-10 to 0-10 after 54 minutes, but Carlow had the satisfaction of winning the final quarter by 1-2 to 0-3.
It showed that there's a strong resilience in the side, which Rainbow is hoping to reinforce in the coming weeks and months.
"It's something we're working on. When the opposition score, we want to get one back straight away. It's a work-in-progress and each week they're getting better," he said.
Rainbow was also impressed by a 1-12 return against a top Division 1 side, albeit one which was without a several front-line performers.
"It was a good score against Dublin in the first week in January. That's something we're going to work on in the next few weeks. We have to up it by another 10 to 15 pc," he said.
Carlow move on to their next O'Byrne Cup game against Wicklow in Bray on Wednesday, while Dublin take on DCU in Parnell Park before completing a busy week against Wicklow next Sunday.
"Three games in a week is a bit much to be honest," said Gavin. Still, he's dealing from a stronger hand than most of the other Leinster counties who are in the same situation and will, no doubt, use it effectively as he seeks to give most of the newcomers a chance to challenge for places ahead of the league opener against Cork on February 2.
Scorers – Dublin: R McCarthy, D Connolly 1-2 each, B Brogan 0-4 (3f), P Quinn 1-0, P Andrews 0-2, D O'Mahony, K McManamon, G Sweeney 0-1 each. Carlow: Brian Murphy (2f), D Foley (4f) 0-4 each, S St Ledger 1-1, E Ruth 0-2, Brendan Murphy 0-1.
Dublin – S Cluxton; D Daly, G Brennan, D Byrne; E Lowndes, T Brady, C O'Sullivan; D O'Mahony, MD Macauley; P Quinn, P Andrews, B Brogan; R McCarthy, D Connolly, K McManamon. Subs: D Bastick for Macauley (17), S Carthy for McManamon (ht), J McCaffrey for Byrne (ht), G Sweeney for O'Mahony (50), E Fanning for Quinn (64).
Carlow – T O'Reilly; B Kavanagh, S Mernagh, BJ Molloy; M Doyle, D Hayden, T Bolger; D Foley, S Redmond; R Walker, C Murphy, E Ruth; Brian Murphy, A Kelly, D St.Ledger. Subs: C Moran for C Murphy (32), Brendan Murphy for Kelly (50); K Nolan for Doyle (59), K Byrne for Molloy (65), P Reid for Walker (66).
Ref – F Barry (Kildare).