'No-one has a nailed-on spot' - Jim Gavin fires out a warning to Dublin stars
Dublin 1-15 Down 1-7
The ride has been "a little bit bumpy" according to Jim Gavin, but despite a few minor blips along the way Dublin's march towards a fourth Allianz League title in a row continues to gather pace.
Monaghan and Cork threatened to dent their unblemished record in recent weeks and while Down were greatly improved in Pairc Esler on Saturday night, even holding a four-point lead early on, the champions kept them at arm's length to pick off a fifth straight win of the campaign.
The manager was quietly pleased as they all but confirmed a place in the semi-finals with two Division 1 games remaining.
"Teams have asked us questions in each of the games and I think we've responded to those," said Gavin. "It's been a little bit bumpy but we've had good performances within games and when we get that, results tend to follow.
"We're not doing too much at the moment but the players are applying themselves to each task we ask them to do and you can see the fruits of it."
It will be high summer before the fallout to the loss of Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll can be measured accurately. In the meantime Gavin will assess his options, and played Jonny Cooper and Philly McMahon in the half-back line against Down with Michael Fitzsimons at full-back.
He will continue to select, he insists, on form, not reputation.
"Nobody has a nailed down spot. If a player isn't in form, we're not going to play him - it doesn't matter who that player might be or the experience he brings," he said.
"We have a set plan but we need some flexibility as players come in and out of injuries and in and out of form. It's about giving players time on the pitch now, because this is as close to Championship as we're going to get."
If ever an eight-point defeat could be described as a moral victory, then this was it for Down.
With relegation already beckoning after losing all four games so far by an average of 11 points, they restored some pride.
Despite only playing with one player inside the Dublin '45', they managed to give the visitors an early scare, though it was a self-inflicted blow as Stephen Cluxton made a rare blunder in the fifth minute, spilling a high ball into his own net.
"That's life, we all make mistakes," said Gavin. "He's such an experienced player; we have an experienced group of players and they respond to these things.
"I thought he played very well. His kickouts were excellent and we showed good composure again after that little setback."
Dublin recovered with 1-7 in a 16-minute spell and led 1-8 to 1-3 at the break. Cormac Costello hit 1-3 of that tally, his goal coming in the 18th minute from a rebound after Kevin McManamon's shot was blocked.
After being on the fringes of things last year, Costello looks close to establishing himself in the full-forward line but typically, Gavin wasn't giving much away.
"He is full of purpose and intent and is working hard off the field," he said. "This team is a sum of its parts and each player has a part to play. Cormac has played his part."
Dublin coped well with Down's packed defence and although 11 wides was not ideal, Dean Rock, Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Flynn and McManamon all showed up well, even if Diarmuid Connolly was unusually subdued.
Despite failing to score for 27 minutes in the first half, Down later had a mini-revival, closing the deficit to four points and also hit the woodwork twice late on.
Manager Eamonn Burns was heartened by their best display of the season, even if it all but confirmed their relegation.
"We knew it wasn't going to be a quick fix," he admitted. "We're happy with the progress we've made. Yes, we would have liked to have stayed in Division 1, but you have to win enough games to stay there and we've found that hard to do this year."
SCORERS - Dublin - C Costello 1-4 (0-4fs), D Rock 0-3 (1 '45', 1f), C Kilkenny, K McManamon, P Flynn 0-2 each, J Cooper, P Andrews 0-1 each. Down - D O'Hare 1-2 (0-2fs), J Murphy 0-2, D O'Hanlon, P Devlin, M McKay 0-1 each.
DUBLIN - S Cluxton 7; D Byrne 7, M Fitzsimons 8, J Cooper 8; J McCarthy 8, P McMahon 7, J Small 7; B Fenton 8, S Carthy 7; P Flynn 8, D Connolly 7, C Kilkenny 8; C Costello 9, K McManamon 8, D Rock 8.Subs: S B Carthy 7 for Flynn (BC, 44), P Andrews 7 for McManamon (46), E Lowndes 7 for S Carthy (46), D Bastick 7 for Fenton (52), T Brady 7 for Costello (57), D Daly 7 for Cooper (64).
DOWN - M Cunningham 7; G Collins 7, G McGovern 7, D O'Hagan 7; J Flynn 6, A Carr 6, D O'Hanlon 7; P Turley 6, M McKay 7; C Maginn 7, R Mallon 6, K McKernan 6; C McGovern 6, D O'Hare 7, B O'Hagan 6.Subs: J Murphy 8 for McKernan (BC, 6), P Devlin 7 for Mallon (48), L Howard 6 for Carr (52), C Harrison 6 for O'Hagan (52), H Brown 6 for McKay (57).
REF - D O'Mahoney (Tipperary).