Eugene McGee: Dublin's young talent giving Gilroy a welcome headache
Parnell Park has developed a kind of cult following for Dublin's Saturday night League matches in recent years, and the latest edition will certainly have added to that. Any time the Dublin team improves from being two points down at half-time to eventually winning the game by seven, the fans are sure to go away happy despite the piercing cold.
Bearing in mind that the previous Saturday, Derry had beaten Tyrone at a canter in their opening League game, this was a significant result. It represents a step towards the rebuilding of the Dublin team, which everybody agrees is a necessity if they are to become serious contenders in August and September.
Mind you, as we looked out at the first half of this encounter, there was very little sign of the arrival of new talent. The players looked exactly like what they were -- a combination that had never played together, lacking in understanding and seeming thoroughly unlikely to supplant the stars of the past five years.
Eamon Fennell did hold the ship together at midfield in most of that half and Alan Hubbard worked hard enough to prove that he was eager to make the breakthrough, but in the main it was Derry who called the shots in that opening period.
A weird pattern of Dublin play developed as the half wore on, which left the home side with only one or two forwards in the Derry half for long periods, thereby giving the visitors' back-line a relaxing time.
Dublin failed to score for the closing 25 minutes of the half.
At the other end, the Dublin backs may have had extra manpower, but they seemed to be getting in each other's way with their enthusiasm, because they fouled time after time in the tackle and ended up conceding five points from placed balls.
To some extent, the confused behaviour of the Dublin players was a result of being in an unfamiliar line-out, but that is part of the process of experimentation which Pat Gilroy and Co are utilising.
However, when Gilroy got them into the dressing-room, one presumes he created a feeling of better organisation and a sense of purpose which had been lacking. It worked and it must be said that many of the newcomers blossomed as they tore Derry apart in the second half and scored 1-7 against Derry's solitary point.
It was a combination of Dublin players greatly increasing their work-rate and Derry doing what they have done so often in big games in recent years -- drifting into anonymity.
Outstanding midfielder Fergal Doherty did try to stop the rot, but gradually Fennell and Ross McConnell took over completely and whenever Derry did stage a worthwhile attack they proved to be even more inept at shooting than Dublin had been in the first half.
Yet it was only in the final 10 minutes that, aided by a raft of subs including Bernard Brogan, Dublin started scoring freely and added on 1-4 to give them a comfortable victory.
Inevitably in games at this time of year when new faces abound, the fans will be asking if any of the newcomers are good enough to make the grade.
How many will be playing next August? Certainly, several of the veterans who for various reasons were relaxing high up in the stand, did not look unduly worried at what they were seeing, but that might well change if this Dublin team continues winning in the League.
The patchy performances of so many players in the first half merely highlights one of the great difficulties for modern-day Dublin teams: how to bring along new potential talent within the framework of the senior team.
Because Dublin teams are observed so closely by their own and other counties' followers, there is additional pressure on players who are trying to break into the county team in the League.
In the past few years, many new faces have been tried in February and March, only to disappear like snow in June before the championship comes along.
This year it seems to be a bit different and Gilroy has conceded publicly that new players must join the team for the championship. These are brave words, because one of the most difficult things for selectors to do is to turn their backs on players who have served the county well -- but still not well enough -- and opt instead for a newcomer.
I have often wondered why the leading county teams do not have a second-team competition of their own, running in tandem with the League proper, so that up-and-coming players could learn the ropes regarding the county scene and the many demands it makes when club players move into the county system.
Each year, aspiring Dublin seniors get tried out at the top level under very demanding conditions and often they melt in the heat of other teams fielding established stars.
This has not been the case in the League so far, with wins over Kerry and Derry, so maybe the experiments will yield greater returns this year than previously. The remainder of the League, starting with the next game away to Mayo, will be the best test to date of the newer Dublin players.
- As everybody knows, coaching and coaches are the new power-brokers of Gaelic games, so it is not surprising that new levels of sophistication in coaching dominate GAA thinking.
Next Saturday in Citywest Hotel, a seminar will take place organised by Sporttracker, a company which is at the forefront of all this.
Top coaches from many sports, including former Liverpool manager Roy Evans, will be there, along with GAA coaches like Jack O'Connor and John O'Mahony. It should be an informative day. Information can be got on the website.