Monday 27 March 2017

Leading the line

Dublin manager Pat Gilroy must revolve everything in his plan of attack around Bernard Brogan

Dublin's Bernard Brogan celebrates after scoring the first goal of the
game against Monaghan last weekend RAY MCMANUS / SPORTSFILE
Dublin's Bernard Brogan celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game against Monaghan last weekend RAY MCMANUS / SPORTSFILE

So what's it to be for Dublin and Sam in September then? Northside or south? O'Connell or Dawson? Planks and scaffolding at the GPO or the Mansion House? Surely these are the only remaining questions!

We jest of course. Ballooning Dublin expectation and anticipation on the whiff of a couple of good results has become a national pastime. And a running joke, even among hard-pressed Dublin supporters themselves who can see humour in the instinct to embellish.

Stringing a couple of decent passes together has often been the bedrock for fresh optimism in the past. That's unlikely to change in the future but Dublin players have grown more accustomed to the sharp inflationary and deflationary swings to their stock.

Right now, though, their market is that bit more bullish, not enough perhaps for a trademark optimism rush but a move away from the bear-like mood that has hung over the capital since their thorough dismantling at the hands of Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final last August.

significant

Hitting the road to beat Kerry in the opening round of the league in Killarney, the first time in 28 years that they won on Kingdom soil, represented a small but significant step. No more than Cork against Kilkenny at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday, it was important for themselves more than any great mark being made on the future landscape that they went to Kerry on that first Sunday in February and did what they did.

Since then they've chipped away at the climb in front of them, finding a path with a gradient that suits them. Who would ever have predicted that a team whose manager had earmarked significant running repairs during the competition would find themselves top of the pile after four rounds?

The long-held criticism that they can't win difficult games on the road and that they have ignored the value of a decent league run can be put to bed for now.

If Dublin were to go on and win this league it would provide more currency than a sixth successive Leinster title. Look at the bottom five teams in Division Two if that argument doesn't seem reasonable.

What's more, clear patterns are emerging. Pat Gilroy is slowly but surely laying waste to quite a few of the earwigs that shot out from beneath the rock that they perished on last August. The changes made are more permanent than transitory.

Right now it would be difficult to present a case for any more than 10 to survive and present themselves for duty to start the first championship game against Laois or Carlow on June 6. And 10 might be even stretching it.

What is clear from Saturday night, just as it was in his even briefer cameo against Derry, is that everything in attack will have to revolve around Bernard Brogan.

His anchoring on the bench for the first three games led to inevitable speculation that the management were sending a message about work rate and application and, if that was the case, the gamble paid off because Dublin won every game and Brogan has a greater spring in his step when his team don't have the ball.

But he is a player who makes a discernable difference and Dublin have too few in that category. His performance against Meath with limited possession on the night that they made their O'Byrne Cup exit in Navan illustrated that. For sure he didn't have the best of days last August in Tom O'Sullivan's commanding company but if Gilroy is to persist with a two-man full-forward line, Bernard must be in the lead role.

Who shares the front line with him is one of the more intriguing questions. Alan Brogan made his return to club action over the weekend but won't have much league involvement over the next three weeks. Still, his claims would be impossible to ignore.

The case for Michael McAuley is strengthening because he provides something different, a strength and bustling presence at centre-forward that could yield anything. Alternatively he is one of the players that could fall away once spring turns to summer.

The greatest improvements, however, have been in defence, where the stats naturally boast the best record in the division, an average leak of just under 11 points per game giving oxygen to the growing belief that Rory O'Carroll, Philip McMahon and Cian O'Sullivan can make the step up seamlessly over the next few months. They've been helped too by the roles that David Henry, Alan Hubbard and Paul Flynn have filled.

Rory O'Carroll has quietly and efficiently become the leading full-back, removing the legitimate criticism levelled at the management last year that they never deviated away from Denis Bastick.

It might not stop at three either. Mick Fitzsimons has been improving with every performance, while Ross O'Carroll will emerge as another strong possibility if injuries are ever kind to him, leaving Bastick, Bryan Cullen, Ger Brennan and even Barry Cahill looking over their shoulders.

Difficult days lie ahead. Trips to Leeside haven't been kind in the past and they haven't beaten Tyrone in their last three attempts.

Ultimately, Dublin must be judged in August and beyond. But they have reacted in the best possible way to the circumstances they found themselves in seven months ago and got themselves into the recovery position. They can't ask for much more.

So back to the relevant questions. Will it be Des Cahill or Ryan Tubridy on the mic?

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport