Gavin still has plenty of work to do with rusty Dubs
Published 09/06/2014 | 02:30
Euphoric? No. Contented? Yes. That probably sums up how Jim Gavin and his players felt after the, at times, hard-earned victory over an impressive Laois side in Croke Park.
For a start, euphoria is not something we normally associate with first games in the Leinster championship, especially when the bookies rate your team at around 10/1 on to beat any team in the province.
In the case of Dublin and their followers these days, the only day they can feel euphoric will be if the Sam Maguire Cup is collected or, possibly, by beating Kerry in the closing stages of the championship – or both.
However, despite Dublin's comprehensive victory, the most important thing for Gavin and his management team is that there was proof yesterday that there is still lots to work to be done to get them to their best. Of course, time is on their side and, with a fairly safe passage through to the quarter-finals, that time can be put to good use.
This was not your typical Dublin v Laois Leinster championship game, devoid, as it was, of anything remotely like a bit of needle or a physical battle.
Before the start, Billy Sheehan and Johnny Cooper made a faint-hearted attempt to assert the old traditions between the counties, but it died out as soon it had started. We have all become so politically correct nowadays when the culchies play the Dubs, but maybe that will change as the season advances.
A couple of things stood out about Dublin with regard to individual performances. Cooper showed yet again that he is an extraordinary football talent with a wide range of skills, razor sharp anticipation and absolutely fearless in the best sense when competing for a ball or chasing down an opponent.
Very often defenders never get the praise that star forwards receive from the media or the GAA public, but in the case of Cooper, that has never been the case. One would imagine, therefore, that special attention would be paid by opposing teams in an effort to thwart or at least reduce his efficiency within the rules.
In any game I have seen, no opposing team has managed to do anything like that for the full game and for many opponents, marking Cooper seems to be a lost cause.
On the other side of the coin, Eoghan O'Gara showed that his brilliance, which has been evident in so many matches, is nowhere as consistent as, say Cooper. He had numerous chances when started at full-forward, but never really made the impact that he has done many times before.
Of course he was marked directly by Laois full-back Paul Begley a lot of the time and certainly he showed that playing a big-name player from Dublin is no hindrance to his own efficiency.
Dublin rely on internal matches to sharpen up and devise their team preparations and are fortunate to have a panel of such size to accommodate that as they perfect their team and individual skills behind closed doors. They also score heavily on the fact that far more than just 15 players are on the very edge of matching the first 15, thereby ensuring strict and genuine competition for places.
At this time of the year I constantly hear managers lamenting that the biggest problem they have is deciding what is their best 15. God bless their innocence is all I say – having looked at Westmeath, Longford, Offaly, Louth and Cavan – if they still cannot select their best team for a championship game. Their REAL problem is that they have usually only between 10 and 12 good enough for big championship games, but no manager will admit to that.
For the first half yesterday Dublin looked rusty and, indeed, Laois should have had six more points on the board. But for some wild shooting and after about 25 minutes, they had eight points, but also eight wides.
That allowed Dublin to relax knowing their famous second-half turbo jet avalanche would get them out of trouble – and it did.
I thought the biggest technical error Laois made was to carry the ball right up close to a Dublin opponent and invariably they coughed up possession in these instances.
A more fluid style of play with ball being used long would have reaped better results, but overall Laois can feel good about themselves after this performance. And they have an exciting new 'keeper in Graham Brody, too.
Dublin will know they have to get better and will set out to do that. Maybe their biggest problem, as the season goes by, will be how best to use their super-subs.