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Two out of three ain't bad

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Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan. Picture: Sportsfile.

Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan. Picture: Sportsfile.

Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan. Picture: Sportsfile.

OPTIMISTS will point to the fact that, despite whatever collateral damage they sustained naturally in winning last year's All-Ireland, Dublin have won two of their first three league games and should, barring an onset the sort of inconsistencies that blighted their last post-Sam Maguire spring in 2012, make the semi-finals of this year's competition.

That, most probably, would do nicely for Jim Gavin.

The less chipper assessment of their 2014 activities insists that their wins came firstly, against a Kerry team for whom losing in February has become a closely-held tradition and secondly, a Westmeath side struggling badly to breathe the rarefied air of top-flight football and already aboard an express trip to Division 2 from whence they came.

And maybe – just maybe – defeat by a Cork team still in the embryonic stages of development under Brian Cuthbert in Croke Park last week demonstrated that those who crave Dublin's crown are already spotting and targeting areas of potential dividends in their make-up this year, an unavoidable hazard of defending champions.

"I wouldn't be overly concerned," says Cian O'Sullivan, Dublin's centre-back in all three games and arguably their most consistent player through the spell.

"We have won two of three games and lost to a very strong, fit, mobile and organised Cork team at the weekend and lost by two points.

"I thought we played quite well, but were a little off in one or two aspects. But we're happy with where we are at the moment. We have things to work on, but any team you ask, they will say they have things to work on as well."

BEMOAN

If Dublin were to be slightly more narcissistic about it, they might bemoan that their unbeaten run in League and Championship lasted 350 days and had they held out until March 16, the day of their trip to Derry, it would have charted a full year.

"It wouldn't be something I ever thought about, going unbeaten for however long we did," O'Sullivan insists. "It was a tough game and we lost by two points and any game you lose like that, you are going to be frustrated by it. But that's sport."

Through it all, O'Sullivan is back in a more familiar habitat at centre-back (though listed to start at midfield v Cork).

"It always takes a couple of games in either position to get back in the swing of things," he says of his relocation, though the fact is, O'Sullivan stands as reigning All Star centre-back, despite playing just 35 minutes there last summer.

"You haven't as much licence to play a free role as you do in the middle of the park," he explains. "Your primary objective is to mark your man and stop him from doing damage. Centre-forwards are generally quite good players, so it's trying to take care of that man first and then act as a platform for an attack thereafter. When you are midfield, you are doing a bit of everything, you are attacking and defending."

Still, being left isolated in open spaces is a risk defenders have to face in the current set-up.

Where once, Pat Gilroy's number six patrolled the highways in and around the middle section of the Dublin defence – but never got dragged out of position – now each of their defenders' roles consist of nothing more tactically complex than marking their men, one-on-one, as tightly as possible. That and engaging every opportunity to surge forward as they present themselves.

In that regard, O'Sullivan's position might have changed, temporarily though it may prove to be, but his responsibilities haven't altered greatly.

FOUL

With the advent of the black card, though, any urge to deliberately foul must be suppressed at all times.

"In the last three games, it didn't pop into my head," O'Sullivan stresses, "and generally, I never would have the thought to pull down the player or cynical play would never enter my head anyway, so it's not something I was overly cautious about."

Has there been any edict from management?

"Just the fact that you have to be wary that if you do this, you have to be off the field of play.

"With or without the rule, you can't pull a jersey or pull a man down, so don't do it and you wont get a black card. It's as simple as that really."

Of Kildare, O'Sullivan points out: "In their last three games, although results haven't gone in their favour, they have been playing very well and been putting up some very high scores and they seem to have a very strong outfit this year.

"Added to that," he concludes, "you have the extra spice that's there between Dublin and Kildare. There's (been) a great rivalry over the last couple of years."


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