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Young guns fire at right time

Howard and Murchan brought vital energy to Dublin's cause


High flier: Dublin's Brian Howard gets to the ball ahead of Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone during the All-Ireland Football Final at Croke Park

High flier: Dublin's Brian Howard gets to the ball ahead of Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone during the All-Ireland Football Final at Croke Park

High flier: Dublin's Brian Howard gets to the ball ahead of Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone during the All-Ireland Football Final at Croke Park

We can ignore the cyclical argument anyway.

The thesis that Dublin's booming success since 2011 was the product of a single, special group of footballers has been disarmed.

Last Sunday, Dublin had their most comprehensive All-Ireland final victory since 1977.

They did so with a team where the average age of the 14 outfield starters was just 25.5 years.

Where just three of the team; Stephen Cluxton, Philly McMahon and Cian O'Sullivan were over the age of 30. And with three players starting their first All-Ireland final.

This is a key element to Jim Gavin's management and recurring theme.

"Every year the squad changes," Philly McMahon pointed out.

"Who's going to be here next year?

"So with a squad that is competitive like that, it's very easy to keep winning games."

Does Gavin deliberately set out to find two new players per season or does it just pan out like that with startling regularity?

In 2013, it was Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion. In 2014, it was Cormac Costello and Nicky Devereux.

In 2015 it was Brian Fenton and John Small. In 2016, it was David Byrne.

In 2017, it was Con O'Callaghan and Niall Scully.


This year, it was Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan, although Scully - who started every match up until the final last year - joined them as a September debutant.

Scully scored a goal (he finished the year as Dublin's highest goal scorer) and had a huge ball-carrying influence on the first half.

Howard capped an extraordinary breakthrough year with gem of a display, memorable mostly for that booming, settling second-half point and the injury-time catch he made from behind Colm Cavanagh when a another Tyrone goal would have inexplicably made the match a belated contest.

"I claimed that I'm teaching him everything that he knows," Brian Fenton gleefully noted, the more grizzled of the Rahney men in the Dublin team at 25.

And then there's Eoin Murchan.

By Fenton's estimation, "he must have picked up about 17 kick outs", in the final.

"He takes everything in his stride," Jonny Cooper told the Herald of his defensive partner at club and now county level.

"I've seen him for years in the club. He takes it all in his stride. The level of intent and analysis he puts in is probably second to none.

"He's coming in as a 22 year old and setting the standards in many ways. Carefree. Energetic. Loads of pace. Loads of energy.

"And when you have that as a young person…it's not as if he came completely from left field, he has a lot of experience from underage.

"But then Jim gave him a bit of trust. And no different to some of the other lads over the years, he's taken it and ran with it.

"Again, any plaudits he gets is just reward for him."

As Declan Darcy admitted on Monday, Dublin management always had a "good feeling" about Howard, but Murchan, who again eclipsed Niall Sludden, "came on the blindside a little bit".

When you're 5'8" coming being able to come from the blindside is one of the perks.

The ease and frequency with which Gavin has identified and blended this talent is notable.

Of Dessie Farrel's 2014 All-Ireland Under 21 winning team; Small, McCaffrey, Fenton, Lowndes, Scully, Mannion, Costello and Byrne have made a significant impact at senior Championship football.

"When they get to the minor and under-20 grade, senior, you are just putting a bit of polish on them," Gavin said recently.

"They have developed a lot already. One of the success stories of the GAA is the sum of its part, the club structure...you look at the current squad there's probably over 20 clubs represented on the panel and that's a testament to the network of clubs we have in Dublin and the great work being done at underage level."

From the outside, it seems the perfect blend of raw material and productive environment.

"They're all very grounded in their own way," Cooper insisted.

"There's nothing really phases those boys. Not only are they playing particularly well and doing their own personal stuff well, they're pushing the standards higher for other people.

"And competing with guys with a lot more experience and showing no fear and just attacking the moment for what it is."

The upshot is that Dublin arrived at the business end of the Championship fresh and vibrant in a season where they had to play more matches than ever.

"Thankfully we're in a great place age-profile-wise," as Fenton pointed out, smiling broadly.

"And long may it continue".