Monday 23 October 2017

Don't believe the hype, just yet

Consistency now the key for Gilroy's men

Dublin's Paul Flynn celebrates after scoring his side's goal against Kerry. After such a bright start to the league, Dubs boss Pat Gilroy will have to keep expectations in check for the rest of the campaign
Dublin's Paul Flynn celebrates after scoring his side's goal against Kerry. After such a bright start to the league, Dubs boss Pat Gilroy will have to keep expectations in check for the rest of the campaign

The following 900 words or so have to carry the usual disclaimer. Dublin win an opening-round tie of the National Football League against All-Ireland champions at a difficult venue, cue an acceleration in the belief that they have turned a corner or laid down a marker of some sort.

It's not just media commentators who become entangled in the web of optimism. Dublin themselves have seen these victories as landmarks in the past.

The covert text of the 'blue book', Dublin's secretive pocket bible for 2008, declared the infamous battle of Omagh two years earlier, when they survived the cauldron of an explosive afternoon to emerge 1-09 to 1-06 victors over the then All-Ireland champions Tyrone, as a day when "we crossed the line together as a Dublin squad hasn't done in years".

And when a Jason Sherlock point earned them a 0-9 to 0-8 win over the same opposition in the opening match of the 2004 league it earned hearty acclaim from Tommy Lyons, who saw it as a "line in the sand" from a demoralising 2003 campaign.

It came as no surprise then that Pat Gilroy sought to apply grit to the surface of Dublin's latest successful opening league bow to ensure no one was losing their footing.

"There's no point in doing this and then next week playing brutal," detailed Gilroy in the knowledge that that this was the pathway taken after both league victories over Tyrone in 2004 and 2006.

Just seven days after that initial round-one success at Parnell Park six years ago, an experienced Dublin team headed west and suffered the humiliation of a 1-10 to 0-3 defeat to Mayo in Castlebar.

A similarly miserable sequence followed Omagh in 2006 as Monaghan exploited the absentees in personnel at Parnell Park for a seven point (1-11 to 0-7) victory one week later.

So Dublin have clear form in the past for taking two steps backwards after a giant step forward on day one. In three successive years from 2004 to 2006 Dublin have followed up on opening-day victories in the league by losing their next game. Two defeats under the lights of Croke Park to Tyrone have ensured that in five out of the last six seasons they have been a Division 1 team, they haven't been able to put back-to-back victories together.

Apart from the historical context of Sunday's win in Killarney, their first against Kerry in the league since 1982, there is also an enhancement factor to a very poor record away from home. It was only their sixth away league success since 2005, with the only other victory against a county that could be considered top tier coming against Tyrone in that fixture in 2006.

There have been hard falls on the road to Cork, Armagh, Kerry, Mayo and even Fermanagh, with wins over Limerick, Cavan and Donegal hardly striking a balance. By comparison to Galway, Kerry and Mayo, Dublin's away form is far inferior.

Still, Gilroy will, privately at least, feel a little glow of satisfaction that the weight of some of these statistics have been lifted. Only five who featured in that All-Ireland quarter-final last August took up starting places again. Kerry too had five survivors from August and far less preparation than Dublin, who have been doubling up the dose on Tuesday and Thursdays with challenging early-morning sessions designed to steel them and build morale.

But the All-Ireland champions could still call on a significant bank of experience, with two thirds of the team having featured in an All-Ireland final in the last three years.

Gilroy has never hid his admiration for Tyrone's style of play and their high-octane, perpetual motion game provided the template for what the visitors set about doing on Sunday.

David Henry, selected at corner-forward, dropped back as a sweeper and Alan Hubbard, a corner-back who had the misfortune to be paired with Stephen O'Neill in last year's floodlit game against Tyrone, adapted reasonably well as a half-forward. Paul Flynn and Michael McAuley, nominally a midfielder but named at centre-forward, also adopted deeper positions as Dublin put security at one end ahead of ambition at the other.

The victory will at least fortify what the Dublin management have set about trying to do over the last few months. The early-morning sessions could have easily become a point of ridicule if Kerry had rolled them over, the large numbers being kept on the squad -- there were over 50 at the last count -- could also have become a point of contention.

But the choice of personnel in which faith has been placed has, for now, been justified. Rory O'Carroll and Philip McMahon can offer potential solutions to the full-back line while Eamonn Fennell continues to mature as a midfielder. Now that his home club O'Toole's have cleared the way for him to play for Dublin regardless of his club status, he can only improve. A Ciaran Whelan prototype he may not be, but perhaps he can provide a different type of presence.

McAuley was the other big contributor of those deemed to be new or relative new, his insurance point complementing a significant number of assists for other scores. He's still raw but busy and effective, as he showed in last year's club championship with Ballyboden.

Derry arrive back at Parnell Park next Saturday night and, given the mauling they dished out in last year's league to Gilroy's Dublin, it's the perfect barometer to establish if they can find that level of consistency they crave.

Irish Independent

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