Whelan: Gavin has best panel in Dubs history
FORMER Dublin hero Ciaran Whelan has hailed the current squad as the strongest in the county's history.
Kevin Nolan's introduction against Down last weekend brought to 31 the number of players that manager Jim Gavin has used in the Dubs' six league games this season.
With the Ballymun contingent yet to stake their claim, and Alan Brogan returning from injury, only a handful of players could be deemed certain starters for Dublin's championship opener against either Westmeath or Carlow on June 1.
"Absolutely (it's the strongest Dublin panel). You look back to some of the days I played and we would have been really struggling in terms of strength in depth," said Whelan at the launch of the Race the Ras charity cycle.
"The success at minor level and U-21 level has really given them impetus and for anybody to sit down now and pick Dublin's six forwards, you'd have different views from everybody.
"Finding his best balance and best 15 is probably going to be Jim's biggest challenge come the summer.
"The Ballymun lads have to come back into the equation. They'll probably get a run-out against Donegal and it's going to leave competition for places.
"The 'A' versus 'B' games for the next few weeks should be more competitive than some of the games they're going to play out there during the summer."
Only four players have started all six league encounters and these are either new to the senior panel (Jack McCaffrey and Kevin O'Brien) or have failed to nail down a place under the previous management (Paddy Andrews and Darren Daly), which underlines just how much of a transformation Dublin are going through.
"Jim has built a very new team – there are a lot of changes from the Pat Gilroy era, particularly in defence," added Whelan.
"They need to get a bit of consistency at midfield – he has to find his best two – but his options in the forward line are just frightening."
The Dubs have scored more and conceded less than anyone else in the top flight, with an open brand of football that has won them many admirers.
Last weekend, they dismantled Down's defensive line to run out easy winners, though Whelan sounded a note of caution.
"Jim has a philosophy, he wants to play attacking football. Kildare and Down tried to negate that by putting men behind the ball, but Dublin stayed patient on both occasions and just broke them down.
"The strength in depth they have coming off the bench is phenomenal.
"To think Bernard (Brogan) wasn't playing against Down and neither was Paul Flynn nor Rory O'Carroll and they still won pulling up. It's very positive from a Dublin perspective.
"But the foundation for winning All-Ireland teams over the last few years has been based on a defensive model and they're maybe leaving themselves exposed a bit at the back at times.
"That's something that they're going to have to tighten up on, but I think they are going to be the team to beat.
"Certainly, they're the form team at the moment and I think a lot of teams will fear coming up against them."
Though they lie in second place in the table by virtue of their head-to-head record against Tyrone, Dublin are favourites to win the competition.
And Whelan believes annexing a first league title since 1993 would be a shot in the arm for their championship aspirations.
"It would help. It's all about momentum and confidence," he said.
"I was in the side that lost a league final to Cork in '99 and we've lost a subsequent, also to Cork, in 2011, so it would be nice to pick up a league.
"We've seen in recent years that league titles can transform into summer success, so I think they will go flat out over the next few weeks to try and get the title under their belts."