GAVIN hails superb McManamon tour de force THERE'S a theory about Kevin McManamon that orbits football-themed conversations in Dublin.
It holds that, for all his innate charm as a player – and now fully confirmed status as a hero of Hill 16 – the St Jude's man is likely to make a deeper footprint on a given match when brought on as a substitute than he is when starting, despite the fact the former role consigns him to less time on the pitch.
The rationale behind the thesis being (ignoring, for a second, a chunky body of evidence) that McManamon's straight-line pace and power are more dangerous when utilised late on, at a time when his marker is fatigued in both body and mind, having spent the previous 40 minutes or so measuring up one of Dublin's more conventional forwards.
But on Saturday night in Croke Park, as Dublin gave Kildare their now ritual drumming – this time by ten points (1-22 to 1-12) – McManamon launched a more complete body of work.
One which, if his form and fitness hold, will surely see him start for Dublin this summer - especially following the confirmation that Ciarán Kilkenny is out for the season after suffering a ruptured ACL.
The joke went afterwards that just so long as he doesn't forget to score his goal against Kerry later in the year, sure what harm?
Clearly, McManamon has developed and improved as a footballer these past couple of seasons.
Or certainly, he is no longer a pony of the one-trick variety.
And you couldn't but marvel on Saturday night in Croke Park as Kildare added another dark chapter to their little book of Dublin horror stories, at how McManamon reached, time and again, for the newer arrows in his quiver.
"Kevin is just an example of how diligent and how the players apply themselves," commented Jim Gavin afterwards in what represents as gushing individual praise as the Dublin manager is ever likely to dole out.
"They are all very ambitious and want to improve themselves, particularly in their technical skills. And we do place a heavy emphasis on that.
"Delighted for Kevin, he put a big shift in there and got some great scores along the way."
He kicked eight points, but it was the precise nature of each score, rather than the volume, that impressed most.
Four came from play – all from his lesser-spotted left foot. The other half of his contribution arrived courtesy of frees, three of which he won himself.
For good measure, he directly set up points for Paddy Andrews and Tomás Brady and might, had particular passages opened up just a touch more, have bagged a couple of goals.
"If he gets confident and gets a number of scores they just keep coming," reflected Kildare boss, Jason Ryan. "He seems to be a player that thrives on getting a number of scores and develops from there.
"We struggled with his speed and his strength. His finishing was clinical. Yeah, we didn't have a great deal of answers for him."
Generally speaking though, Dublin were better than Kildare on Saturday night and McManamon's performance, merely the most interesting aspect.
Crucially, he was aided and abetted by Eoghan O'Gara's hulksome ability to win almost every ball sent towards their locale and the return of Andrews – who kicked 1-2 – was another major positive for Gavin.
"It was much improved," the manager admitted by comparison with defeat to Cork a week previous.
"The squad did a lot of reflection during the week and different areas that we needed to improve on. We tried some new things today, some worked and some didn't."
But pace is the most compelling force behind his Dublin team and again on Saturday night, Kildare – no slouches themselves – were left clutching air as the likes of Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey and Jonny Cooper bombed confidently into gaps, scything open Kildare at will.
On the brink of half-time, Kildare were perched on potential disaster, trailing by eight points after Andrews' brilliantly finished goal but Darroch Mulhall – their find of 2014 – produced a similarly exemplary goal after Tomás O'Connor's lay-off to bring the Lilies back to relevance.
They were four down at half-time but the facts were clear and stark.
Dublin were better, faster, harder-working and supremely confidence and thus, battered away at Kildare as Ryan's men squandered good chances they simply couldn't afford.
"At this time of the season, with 14 weeks to go to championship, it is important that we keep going, that we don't remain stagnant," reflected Gavin of a win that puts his team close to a league semi-final spot with a trip to Derry to come next Sunday.
"What we did last year simply won't be good enough again this year. It's all about growth at this stage of the season and there was a little bit of it there today."