WHILE he probably keeps a watching brief on what is said in media circles, Jim Gavin hardly expected to hear such ringing endorsements of his team’s performance last weekend, as pundits the length and breadth of the country heaped praise and pressure onto Dublin’s championship ambitions for 2015.
Even the last manager to gazump Gavin in championship football, Jim McGuinness, spoke in glowing terms of the Dubs, stopping just short of declaring them unbeatable.
There was a similar sentiment expressed last year as the Dubs coasted to another provincial title when the general consensus was that they were simply unstoppable.
That was until Donegal caught them in the long grass in their All-Ireland semi-final, and suddenly all in sundry were able to highlight the flaws in Dublin’s system where all the good of the previous eight months, such as a second consecutive league title, was quickly forgotten about.
So is it a case of being back to where we were 12 months ago, where praise will quickly turn to derision as soon as the Dubs come up against their first ‘real’ challenge, or is there a change for the better in the current set-up?
Well firstly I don’t believe that Dublin were too far away last year.
A couple of missed goal chances in the opening half against Donegal fed into the Ulster champions assault on the Dubs system, and the momentum swing that goals bring, as was evident last year, effectively changed the whole dynamic.
This year, from an attacking perspective the goal-getting capabilities are seriously impressive.
In their two Leinster championship games (v Longford, Kildare) Gavin’s men have hit nine goals, and their movement up front is simply mesmerising for both supporters and opposition defenders alike.
However, if the saying ‘goals wins games’ is true, then equally so is the understanding that the concession of them will severely hamper a team’s ability to win.
Twelve months ago Kerry landed into an All-Ireland final having conceded seven goals in five championship matches.
Yet when they faced up to Donegal, who had hit Dublin for three goals a couple of weeks earlier, a clear team target of not conceding a three-pointer restricted Donegal to 12 points and secured a rather unlikely All-Ireland title for a team that were, even according to their own, in a rebuilding phase.
Two years earlier as the aforementioned McGuinness guided Donegal to only their second ever All-Ireland title, their commitment to protecting Paul Durcan’s goal resulted in the concession of just three goals across their seven championship games, one of which came in their preliminary round tie victory against Cavan.
From a Dublin perspective before moving on they had to look back, and clearly guys sat down and analysed the concession of those three goals against Donegal.
Jonny Cooper touched off this in an interview in the run-up to last Sunday’s tie against Kildare, and consequently what is apparent this year is the team’s focus on restricting their opponent’s goal-scoring opportunities.
A look at their stats for 2015 shows that Dublin conceded only two goals in their seven league encounters, one of which came as a late consolation for Monaghan in the final round of games.
And a similar story emerged from the league final when leading by 1-15 to 0-5 against Cork with 20 minutes left, the Rebels hit two goals when mentally the Dubs were probably halfway up the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect another Division 1 trophy.
In the championship to date, Stephen Cluxton remains unbeaten in the Dublin goal and in analysing last Sunday’s encounter, or the opening 25 minutes in particular, you could sense the desire of the players to restrict goal-scoring chances, probably best epitomised by the entire half-forward line who were so often back in support of their defensive colleagues.
But although the plaudits are rolling in, Gavin and his management team will be preaching that this element of the game-plan is still a work in progress.
A text-book rob from Cooper off Pádraig Fogarty’s boot denied Kildare an almost certain goal and could have left the Dubs trailing by 1-1 inside the opening five minutes.
And even as they built up a ten-point lead after 20 minutes, Kildare still managed to breach their defensive cordon, only to kick four poor wides, one of which was a genuine goal-scoring opportunity for Cathal McNally.
With Westmeath now on the horizon the aim will be to further hone this element of the team’s system of play and its consistent implementation can provide a solid foundation in the Dubs quest to reach the All-Ireland decider.