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We have work to do: Gavin

ON Thursday, at a promotional event for the U21 Football Championship in Croke Park, former Dublin boss Pillar Caffrey was asked a wide range of questions about the current well-being and rude health of the present day boys in blue.

Among his utterances were the assertions that Rory O'Carroll alone was Dublin's one "irreplaceable" player and that, on current form, Bernard Brogan was "unmarkable".

As it happened, the Dubs took the field without both on Saturday night and duly coughed up two league points and a first spring defeat to Mickey Harte's Tyrone.

Point inadvertently proved?

Quite possibly.

There can be no denying that, in the absence of Brogan's menace, the Dublin attack were decidedly less explosive, less direct and having scored 1-14, fell more than four points off their scoring average over their previous four unbeaten games.

And without O'Carroll – the one player in the Dublin squad with no apparently obvious replacement – they conceded a whopping 0-18, similarly their highest concession rate of the season.

"We put ourselves – after a lot of battling in the game – a point ahead and not to kick on was disappointing," was Jim Gavin's assessment of the evening. "I think we would have learned a lot from that game and we're looking forward to next week against Down."

Deeper analysis of Dublin on Saturday evening merely compounds Caffrey's point.

Kevin McManamon started in Brogan's stead, kicked two points and will rightfully take all the plaudits for Dublin's goal – tapped in by Philly Ryan in the 16th minute after the St Jude's man burned Justin McMahon and Aidan McCrory. But, in truth, Gavin may have to find room for both in his attack this year, even if Diarmuid Connolly and Paddy Andrews look nailed-on starters.

With O'Carroll out, Ger Brennan began the game at full-back and, initially, it seemed as though the posting was punishment for his red card against Mayo a couple of weeks back.

Stephen O'Neill, as is his wont, lit up Croke Park in the first half, scoring all three of his open-play scores in the first 35 minutes and generally giving Brennan a hard time.

Indeed, it wasn't until Dublin's play-anywhere tyro Cian O'Sullivan retreated to full-back that O'Neill's influence waned.



Throw into the mix a couple of squandered '45s' and Stephen Cluxton's absence and, suddenly, the missing pieces of Saturday night's puzzle are very, very obvious.

"We created some great goal-scoring chances in the first half, though we didn't take them," noted Gavin. "That was a positive. The guys showed great resolve in the second half to dig deep. Tyrone obviously put a big wall up in front of them and they had to work around it.

"To push a point ahead was pleasing. It wasn't so good that they didn't finish it off. It wasn't too pleasing that we only scored two points in the last 18 minutes, so that's not a good return."

In truth though, Tyrone could have won by more, but a blast of scoring from the Dubs between the 52nd and 57th minute put them back in the lead and had Michael Darragh Macauley hit the net rather than pointing his 65th-minute effort from close range, the result could have been different.

But Harte emptied his bench to clinical effect. Plunkett Kane kicked two superb points, Paddy McNiece one, and Aidan Cassidy lent his hand to the ball-winning operation at a stage when Macauley and Dennis Bastick were beginning to thrive.

After that, it was a case of holding onto a lead and no team does it so effectively or as cynically as Tyrone, despite Harte's assertions afterwards that, "It's impossible to choreograph your tackling, let alone your fouling. I think that's a myth – it's not true.

"It's hard enough tactically to put them out on the field, but to teach them to tactically foul, that's just no part of the game," he insisted. "It could not happen. I don't know any example, no one has ever given me an example, where that has happened.

"How can you be in the right place at the right time to commit a foul if you are playing the game the way you want your team to be playing? That's a myth as far as I'm concerned."

Gavin was diplomatic, pointing out that "teams are playing within the rules", but the rugby tackles and deliberate bookings were a further endorsement of the Football Review Committee's proposed rules.

"I think there are plenty of traits that Pat Gilroy had in his team and obviously Jim Gavin is adding to that," added Harte of his first experience against Gavin's new Dublin team.

"I think Jim Gavin won't be too disappointed with tonight. He's building a good team, they're very successful to date and that doesn't knock them out of the semi-finals in any shape or form.

"I think he would have seen tonight as valuable. He'll probably be disappointed not to get the two points, but he won't be crying all week about it."