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Can Dublin bury O'Byrne hoodoo?

IF JIM GAVIN were the superstitious type, he'd have spent most of Sunday night pulling his hair out at the ridiculously misplaced ambition of his Dublin team. He'd had scolded Eoin Culligan for his temerity in advancing from corner-back sentry to kick an equalising point near the end of normal time.

He'd have looked at the record books and screamed.

Here's why: only two winners in the history of the O'Byrne Cup, dating back to 1954, have gone on to lift Sam Maguire - Dublin in 1958 and Meath in 1967. In other words, ancient history.

Just as well, then, for his own sanity, that Gavin has long championed logic over superstition. He knows that winning this latest edition of the Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup will have no negative impact on Sky Blue prospects of regaining the chalice that matters ... by the same token, Dublin's extra-time victory in Newbridge won't necessarily boost their All-Ireland chances either.

A more valid question is what have we learned from Dublin's January road trip? There have been several signposts, some encouraging, others less so ...

(1) Winning is a habit, so five on the spin surely constitutes good news? With one caveat: Dublin were very proficient at this for most of last season, too easily at times, which may have left them ill-prepared for the Donegal litmus test. As Kildare's Jason Ryan noted on Sunday: "I definitely feel that you learn way, way, way more in defeat than what you you do in easy wins."

(2) For most of this month, Dublin have been good at establishing early dominance and then - as they emptied the bench or merely through switching off - they've allowed the opposition an unlikely lifeline.

They were three up and with a strong wind against Laois, but then briefly found themselves two down near the end. They were nine clear of Meath only to be pegged back to parity in injury-time. They were six to the good against Kildare - and then trailed by a point in injury-time.

(3) Yet, when possible defeat loomed, each time Dublin have mustered an impressive response: cue Emmet Ó Conghaile's last-gasp winner against Laois; or the patient probing that led to Philly Ryan's crucial point against Meath and Culligan's leveller to force extra-time againast Kildare.

(4) The competition has given Culligan, John Small and Ó Conghaile sustained exposure; each has caught the eye at times, with Small offering a solid centre-back option especially in the likely event that Dublin moderate their gung-ho counter-attacking ways this year. Of all the relative rookies, though, Shane Carthy has impressed us the most: his potential was obvious to Gavin as far back as 2013, when straight out of minor, and increasingly he looks the real deal.

Then again, it's 'only' the O'Byrne Cup ...


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