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Intensity key for Pat

JUST as we're edging closer to summer, the Dubs go into hibernation ... or, to be more strictly accurate, into hiding.

The All-Ireland champions will not be sleeping over the next eight weeks -- rest assured that the players will not be, ahem, resting.

But, bar some club championship action, they will be operating in relative obscurity, away from the constant glare of weekly Allianz League excursions and weekly Friday morning press conferences, too.

This, you suspect, will please Pat Gilroy. He has a body of work to complete with his squad before they re-enter our public consciousness with their opening Leinster SFC defence against Louth or Westmeath on June 3.

Their just-completed league campaign was instructive for the Sky Blue boss, and not all of the lessons have been positive ones. By the same token, to describe Dublin's failure to secure a semi-final berth as a calamity or, worse again, a portent of summer crisis to come would be wilfully over-the-top.

Yes, they have just lost consecutive league games under Gilroy for the first time since March 2010. Yes, they have disciplinary issues to address coming out of this year's card-infested spring campaign. Yes, their strength in depth may not be so abundant that they can blithely overcome the absence of several marquee forwards.

But these problems can all be remedied by the time summer comes around. Perhaps the biggest 'problem' may not be a problem at all. It's that intangible quality called hunger, and we won't know for sure if Dublin retain the same desire that set them apart in 2011 until it comes to a straight knockout match with the safety net removed.

This, more often than not, is when defending champions who appear in rude health suddenly find themselves drained of energy. Either that, or they run into a mirror image of the team they were 12 months earlier -- a ravenous beast -- and have no answer to the onslaught.

This explains why Gilroy has made such a play about the fundamental importance of "intensity" in recent weeks. When Dublin don't have it, his mantra goes, they mutate from a formidable force into a poor team, end of. Ensuring they stay the former will be his primary challenge over the coming months, but here are some other ones ...

FITNESS

Bernard Brogan has played no league football this year and Alan Brogan not a huge amount either. That is not a major issue, given that the two siblings should be back to fitness pretty soon and that Gilroy knows what he can get from the two most recent Footballers of the Year.

On the flip side, even Kerry might struggle if asked to go through an entire championship without, say, Colm Cooper and Declan O'Sullivan. Gilroy will also be keen to see Eoghan O'Gara back on the pitch; he was showing signs of becoming a more consistent scoring threat before a groin problem cut his league in half.

FORWARD OPTIONS

Linked to the above, obviously, but some contradictory stats can be gleaned from this year's league, depending on whether your Sky Blue mug is half-full or half-empty. First, the positive spin: even while finishing fifth in the table and while missing a handful of predators at different stages, Dublin were top-scorers in Division One -- their 8-88 tally (112) marginally eclipsing Kerry's 4-99 (111).

However, the sceptics will argue that the statistical picture is skewered by how Dublin performed against the three teams below them in the table -- they tallied 1-14 against Laois, 4-17 against Armagh and 2-16 against Donegal. They were far less prolific against the major players: their 0-8 haul against Mayo was an obvious nadir while their scattergun shooting against Cork (14 wides) contributed in no small way to their final losing tally of 0-12. Diarmuid Connolly finished the league with a prodigious 4-21 (4-10 from play) but his ability to delight and frustrate in equal measure was evidenced by his erratic shooting on Leeside.

In an ideal world, Gilroy will have strike forwards such as the Brogans, Connolly, O'Gara and Kevin McManamon all champing at the bit come championship, bolstered by ball-winning half-forwards like All Star Paul Flynn, in-form skipper Bryan Cullen and Barry Cahill. Suffice to say, he has options aplenty ... fitness and form permitting.

FREE-TAKING

With Bernard Brogan and Stephen Cluxton on the pitch, this shouldn't be a problem. However, without them, Dublin aren't overflowing with alternative deadball options. Connolly has been hit-and-miss with his frees this spring.

His clubmate, Tomás Quinn, is more reliable but it remains to be seen how much game-time 'Mossy' gets this summer. As for kicking those long-range missiles, Michael Savage's missed '45' against Cork suggests that he's not quite ready to assume Cluxton's 'keeper-turned-poacher mantle.

DISCIPLINE

If you're going to pick up a raft of one-match suspensions, the right time to do so is during the months of February, March and April. A majority of these reds were either retaliatory or reckless in nature -- a reflection, perhaps, that Dublin haven't adjusted well to the extra physical attention that comes with being champions.

Nor were they paragons of good behaviour against Cork - shipping seven yellows from an unusually card-happy David Coldrick - but at least Gilroy spied signs that the message is getting through.

"There's national league reffing and championship reffing," he surmised. "Discipline-wise, I thought we were quite good (on Sunday) - we tackled well but got yellow cards for what I deem to be good tackles."

Tackling with channeled aggression - turning over ball while cutting down on frees in the scoring zone - has been a key facet of Dublin's rise to the summit. Now for the hard part ... staying there.


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