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Eugene McGee: Nothing special ...

There are always lots of good footballers available to the selectors of the Dublin football team, in fact more good players than any other county team. Hardly surprising when one considers the population base on which the team operates.

But while there are plenty of GOOD players to wear the famous blue jersey, there has, over the past decade or more, been a marked absence of enough GREAT players. Paul Caffrey learned that the hard way as manager of Dublin when they won a string of Leinster championships, but failed to get to an All-Ireland final.

Pat Gilroy -- now in his third season as Dublin manager -- either has to unearth a few such special players or, more likely, make several of the current players a lot better over the next six months.


It's clear that there are probably 30 players training for Dublin who are good enough to wear county jerseys in about 28 other counties. But what has yet to be proven is whether Dublin have the four or five GREAT players that any team needs to win the All-Ireland nowadays.

Recent winners Tyrone, Kerry and Cork have had such players and we remember greats like Peter Canavan, Sean Cavanagh, Brian Dooher, Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy, Seamus Moynihan, Darragh O Se, Graham Canty, Noel O'Leary and Pearse O'Neill as just a sample of the players who have the special qualities that proved crucial to their respective counties' All-Ireland successes.

Dublin's comprehensive dismantling of a Cork team that had two-thirds of their All-Ireland line-up on duty as opposed to one third of the Dublin team they beat in last year's semi-final certainly shows that there's no scarcity of good footballers in their camp. But this game only required ordinary ability to win it easily -- greatness was not necessary this time, so the wait goes on for Dublin fans.

Undoubtedly, their start to the league is a very positive sign for Dublin and victory over Kerry next Saturday at Croke Park, would add to that feelgood factor -- if it happens.

Dedicated Dubs fans of recent years may be surprised to see so many former regulars being restored to prominence in this league, such as Bryan Cullen, Declan Lally, Barry Cahill, Paul Casey, Tomas Quinn and Diarmuid Connolly, who are all past pupils of the Paul Caffrey football academy.

The impression has sometimes been given that these, and others like them, would need to be supplanted by better players if the Holy Grail is to be achieved. But that fails to recognise the capacity of players to improve dramatically over a couple of years.

Saturday's match showed that several of these lads seem to have a great deal to offer, such as Lally and Casey, in particular, while Quinn looked a super player against Cork.

This poses both problems and opportunities for the selectors. Can they really be sure that all the players missing from the team, through injury and club commitments, are the best and certain to walk back into the team for the Leinster championship, while the league performers revert to warming the bench? A tricky question, no doubt.

Dublin played a very expansive, attractive and eager game against Cork that was dominated by a ferocious work ethic -- as it is called nowadays. That used to mean players would not even need the door of the dressing-room opened to go charging out on to the field and dismantle opponents.

This attribute is the first requirement for success in any team, and Dublin have no problem there. But regardless of the question about quality players, there's no doubt that Dublin are going to have a very good first half of the year. They were vastly fitter in mind and body than Cork on Saturday night and the champions were never doing more than catching up. The result was never in doubt once the Dublin forwards were given the freedom of the pitch to score good goals.


But Cork optimists will take refuge in the scoring statistics, showing that each team scored 16 times and one can reasonably assume that if and when the teams meet again, the Cork backline will have learned the basics of man-marking and closing down space.

Dublin are certainly flying high for the month of February and it will be interesting to see if Saturday's fine attendance of 35,000 men, women and especially children, will be improved on for the real glamour game of the league against Kerry this coming Saturday.

Jedward, of course, will be sorely missed and the fans can only look forward to plain old footballers like Colm Cooper for their thrills.

For now, things are are looking promising for Dublin, but lurking in the background remains the cunundrum that has plagued Dublin for the past 10 years: will the presence of loads of talented, hard-working footballers be sufficient to win the All-Ireland, or will a few more of the quality of Bernard Brogan be required to see the Dubs past the winning post come September?

Irish Independent