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decent shift by dubs earns compliments

MORE than a decent shift. Kilmacud Crokes new manager Gabriel Bannigan was impressed.

Croke Park on a Saturday night. The Sky Blues were back in town. Almost 23,000 in the house.

A difficult first day at the office away to Cork. And then the Donegal diplomats.

Memories - painful ones - of the All-Ireland semi-final. Jimmy was winning matches ... again.

Jimmy has since left the Donegal shore to focus on his work at Celtic Park. Rory Gallagher has taken over in the cockpit.

The Dubs against Donegal can be an electric picnic. And the counties produced another sparkler under the lights.

A tough, demanding assignment. Both sides really going for it. But the Dubs came through and Gabriel says there were many positives to take from the display.

"I thought it was a solid performance, especially when they went down to 14 players," he reasons.


"And it was early enough in the second half when Kevin McManamon got his second yellow card, so Dublin were up against it.

"You were also looking at almost a full-strength Donegal side whereas Dublin are far from that.

"They didn't have the Vincent's lads or Rory O'Carroll, Cian O'Sullivan, and Michael Darragh Macauley, etc, while Bernard Brogan didn't start.

"So from that point of view, Dublin did well to get the victory.

"Dublin had to really dig deep to get the two points. But they deserved it.

"It's a very hard league. There are no easy matches, that's for sure."

You can say that again. Dublin's next assignment is against the All-Ireland champions, Kerry.

They also have appointments with Tyrone, Mayo and Derry before visiting Gabriel's native land, Monaghan.

"But Division 1 is where you want to be. All the top teams are there.

"And the league is a very important part of the season, looking ahead to the championship.

"You need to get competitive matches. And Division 1 is the ideal environment for that."

In the modern era, Dublin have certainly used the league to their advantage.

They won the Division 1 title in 2013 and again last term.

Before 2013, their last league success was in 1993.

Now, there's the little carrot of a three-in-a-row. Come the summer, Gabriel feels that the Dubs won't be too far from the altar.

"The full-back line did well on Saturday night and Jack McCaffrey looks to be back to his best. Eoin Culligan was unlucky with the injury. He had a very good O'Byrne Cup."

Then there's the freshness of John Small, Eric Lowndes, Emmett ó Conghaile and Cormac Costello. There's also the guile of Denis Bastick and the undoubted class of Dean Rock.

Add in the returning Ciarán Kilkenny, and Dublin's DCU in-house training games look like again being all-ticket.

"Dublin have the strength in depth, but it's not only that. The players are developing all the time. They have really come on under Jim (Gavin). There has been a lot of improvement there. He is doing a super job."

Gabriel commends his style. Jim is not one to turn a sentence into a novel. And that is the way of the modern managers.

Intelligent, thoughtful and self-contained. And very reluctant to create a headline.

Let the football do the talking. The back page can look after itself. The days of throwing the crockery against the dressing-room wall are long gone.

"It's all about attention to detail now," judges Gabriel. "It's the same with a fella like Joe Schmidt. Then you had Jim McGuinness. His attention to detail was second to none.

"Eamonn Fitzmaurice is like that in Kerry. The league wasn't going great for them last season but he just went quietly about his work.

"He focused on developing players because he had to with Gooch being out injured. Maybe there was an over-reliance on the Gooch.

"But Kerry discovered James O'Donoghue, and other fellas came through as well, and in the end they won the All-Ireland.

"And the league plays a very important part in the process. It provides game-time for players. And it's so useful for managements. They can judge people to see how they cope at such a high level."

This season, Gabriel will be back at ringside himself as the new manager of Kilmacud Crokes.

"I took a year out last year. I watched a lot of games, but football is in the blood," he said.

"And when Seán Fox rang me from Kilmacud, I was delighted. I consider it a huge honour to be asked to manage Kilmacud Crokes.

"They are a big club, but it's not only that. It's the people that are in the club. That's what makes it.

"It's early days yet. It's only pre-season, but we are looking forward to the start of the league in a couple of weeks.

"The lads are putting in the effort. So I'm really enjoying it."

Gabriel is getting used to the Stillorgan scenery. It's a few miles from the Tidy Town, Malahide.

He had a fabulous spell there. "I have very fond memories of St Sylvester's," he said.

"They were five very good years. Winning the Division 1 League (title) was a high point.


"We were one of the most consistent teams around. We were unlucky in a couple of the championship matches.

"In my last season there, 2013, we lost by a point to St Vincent's in the quarter-final. We had our chances in that game. But you need that rub of the green.

"At that level of sport, it's a very thin line. And look what Vincent's have done since.

"They went on to win Dublin. They beat Ballymun in the final.

"Things weren't going well in the final or the replay, but they hung in there, and they came through. The side grew in confidence. And they have got better and better.

"And then they retained the title last year. That is such a hard thing to do.

"Doing the back-to-back in Dublin is some achievement. Dublin football is just so competitive."

Gabriel predicts that Saturday's All-Ireland Club semi-final will be a memorable duel.

"It should be a cracking game. Corofin are a very good side.

"I'd say that whoever comes out of that match will go on and win the title on St Patrick's Day.

"You'd have to rate Corofin. They are a top team, but Vincent's have the fire-power. All their forwards are good. The team work so hard for each other.

"And then, of course, they have Diarmuid Connolly, the best footballer in the country.

"It could be a real close one, but I'd fancy Vincent's."