DUBLIN encountered some turbulence on their seasonal take-off at Dr Cullen Park yesterday, but, having navigated their way through it, they quickly climbed to an altitude which Carlow couldn't reach.
It was level on 0-9 each at the three-quarter stage, but Dublin asserted themselves from there on, scoring eight unanswered points before Carlow midfielder, Darragh Foley closed his side's account from a free in stoppage time.
"A good workout after just a week's training. The application was good and things came together well in the final quarter," was Pat Gilroy's summation of Dublin's first outing as All-Ireland champions.
Their new-found stature earned them the customary guard of honour as they emerged from the dressing-room, with a team which featured only six of the All-Ireland final starting 15, but once the action started Carlow showed scant regard for reputation, throwing themselves enthusiastically into battle.
Dublin rose to the challenge, too, putting together some progressive moves which helped take them three points clear after 14 minutes. Michael Darragh Macauley, Diarmuid Connolly and newcomer Micheal McCarthy were especially effective and, were it not for some wayward shooting -- they kicked eight wides in the first half -- Dublin's interval lead would have been much higher.
Instead, it was restricted to two points (0-6 to 0-4) after Carlow had settled to the task following an uncertain start. Midfielder Brendan Murphy had done extremely well, winning lots of possession and using it intelligently, while also getting forward to kick two points.
"Some of our shooting was very poor in the first half, but I suppose you'd expect that in the first game," said Gilroy, for whom defeat looked a distinct possibility when Carlow enjoyed an industrious start to the second half.
They outscored Dublin three-one between the 43rd and 50th minutes and appeared to have built up a powerful momentum, but couldn't maintain it once the real pressure came on.
Gilroy dispatched 'Mossy' Quinn into the action in the 47th minute and got an immediate response from his St Vincent's colleague. Quinn scored five points (three from open play) in the final 19 minutes in a determined display.
Quinn's introduction emphasised the difference between the teams. Whereas Dublin were able to call on a proven finisher to bolster their effort, Carlow had no such game-changer and while they continued to battle on with commendable effort and energy, they lost out to Dublin's greater strength and structure.
"When you make mistakes against the likes of Dublin, you get punished very quickly. That happened us today, but, overall, I'm very happy with the level of effort shown by our lads. Playing the All-Ireland champions at home in our first game of the year is a great start and I'm sure we'll benefit from it," said Carlow manager, Luke Dempsey.
He will have been pleased with the performances of Barry Lambe, Conor Lawlor, Brendan Murphy, Brian Murphy (first half) and Derek Hayden (second half) and while his side were eventually overpowered, they have the consolation of knowing they won't meet anything as formidable in Division 4.
"We have a very committed squad on board now. They are prepared to put in as much work as is required and I have no doubt they will get better," said Dempsey.
Commenting on the absence of midfielder Thomas Walsh, who is in the US, he said that while it was always a setback to lose a good player, the focus was on the available resources rather than regretting anybody's departure.
Anthony Rainbow has joined the Carlow camp as coach and will, no doubt, have a major involvement in setting up their defensive strategies.
Connolly, who scored 0-3, Quinn and McCarthy set the Carlow defence a puzzle they found very difficult to figure out, but it's part of the learning experience for a squad who, on yesterday's evidence, certainly won't come up short on energy or industry.
As for Dublin, the show continues with early morning training sessions this week, followed by their next O'Byrne Cup game against UCD in Parnell Park on Saturday night. The students, who beat Laois yesterday, are likely to present a more stern test and, with Dublin heavily involved in those early morning sessions, it remains to be seen how they cope with a UCD team whose conditioning is far more advanced.
Gilroy said that the return to training had gone extremely well with the squad showing a huge appetite for hard work.
"They were chomping at the bit to get back. They're putting in the hard work now, but they're ready for it," said Gilroy.
As for Carlow, they play Laois in the O'Byrne Shield next Sunday, another game which will greatly help their preparations for the league.
"These are the type of games we need. You learn a lot from playing the All-Ireland champions, but we must make sure we take the lessons on board," said Dempsey.
"Dublin used their vast resources to good effect today. We came at them in a big way after half-time, but once we got level, we just couldn't press on. That's an area we'll have to work on but then we were up against a side with a huge sense of confidence in everything they did."
So then, satisfaction all round as Dublin eased themselves back onto the competitive circuit with a seven-point win, while the home side acquitted themselves well enough to raise hopes that they will have a good league campaign.
Scorers -- Dublin: T Quinn 0-5 (2f), M McCarthy 0-4 (3f), D Connolly 0-3, MD Macauley, B Cullen, R McConnell, E Fennell, R Corcoran 0-1 each. Carlow: Brendan Murphy
0-3, D Foley (2f), D St Ledger (1 '45') 0-2 each, Brian Murphy, D Hayden, C Murphy 0-1 each.
Dublin -- M Savage; C O'Sullivan, M Fitzsimons, D Daly; K Connolly, G Brennan, D Byrne; MD Macauley, R McConnell; D Lally, B Cullen, P Brogan; P Andrews, M McCarthy, D Connolly.
Subs: J Small for Brennan (h-t), T Quinn for Lally (47), E Fennell for Macauley (55), R Corcoran for Andrews (61).
Carlow -- T O'Reilly; BJ Molloy, C Lawlor, G Nolan; B Lambe, T Bolger, B Kavanagh; Brendan Murphy, D Foley; Brian Murphy, C Murphy, E Finnegan; P Reid, C Coughlan, D St Ledger.
Subs: D Mulvaney for Nolan (h-t), D Hayden for Reid (h-t), C Mullins for C Murphy (55), E Ruth for Finnegan (60), C Walshe for Brian Murphy (65).
Ref -- A Nolan (Wicklow)