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Strength-in-depth gives Gilroy variety of options for another glory drive

AS a measure of Dublin's strength-in-depth, last Sunday's O'Byrne Cup opener with Carlow was a timely reminder of the team that Pat built.

There was the usual experimentation associated with games at this time of year -- Gilroy named just six of the side that started against Kerry in the All-Ireland final last September.

But perhaps more pointedly, none of the All-Ireland-winning U-21 side of 2010 were part of the squad that faced the Barrowsiders, such is the strength of the Dublin panel.

Of that side, Rory O'Carroll, James McCarthy and Nicky Devereaux are college-tied for the O'Byrne Cup, and while the likes of Dean Rock and Gary Sweeney are also pushing hard, their inclusion in the panel is far from guaranteed.

There have been a number of outgoings with the retirement of David Henry, the defection of Ross O'Carroll to Anthony Daly's hurlers and the likely loss of the county's brightest prospect, Ciaran Kilkenny, to the AFL.

Henry was an ever-present under Paul 'Pillar' Caffrey but didn't feature in the championship last year, while O'Carroll has returned to hurling for 2012 after two injury-plagued years with Gilroy's squad.

Kilkenny was the star performer in both minor hurling and football in 2011 and looked to have an exciting future with Dublin, but Carlton look likely to lure him Down Under.

Gilroy made no secret that he based his selection decisions in 2011 largely on in-house matches, where he credited his substitutes with providing the ideal preparation for the starting side. And he has stuck with his policy of keeping the panel open-ended and giving form players their chance.

"The effort that was put in by the 17 who didn't play was just as much as those who did and I'd have just as much loyalty to them," said Gilroy, earlier this month. "I'd feel fierce disloyal to them if I wasn't picking them and they were playing well enough -- I just wouldn't do it.

"Equally, if there are guys who were there and their form is dipping and you have to leave them off the panel -- well that's just sport and is probably a harder thing to do, but if there are club players playing well enough, then as the manager, you must bring them in. There's no question there should be a closed shop -- it doesn't work."

Ballymun Kickhams' Davy Byrne gave away a significant height difference to all his opposite numbers in the club championship, where he lined out at midfield, but his magnificent leap and spectacular fielding saw Gilroy hand him a start at wing-back last weekend.

St Sylvester's Miceal McCarthy started his first full season with the Dubs in good form, while Paddy Andrews is a man reborn after being dropped from the squad before last year's championship.

The versatile St Brigid's clubman was one of a host of players to be left off the squad after they let an eight-point lead slip against Cork in last year's Division 1 final.

Dublin will be aware that, in the wake of their 2010 All-Ireland success, the depth of the Rebels' squad was being lauded in similar fashion before injuries to a number of key forwards like Ciaran Sheehan, Colm O'Neill and Daniel Goulding saw their hopes of defending the All-Ireland title perish at the hands of Mayo at the quarter-final stage.

But in defence in particular, Dublin are an extremely youthful outfit.

James McCarthy is the baby of the side at 21, with Rory O'Carroll just 22. Of the remaining four defenders that started the All-Ireland final, Michael Fitzsimons, Kevin Nolan and Cian O'Sullivan are all aged 23, with Ger Brennan the oldest of the rearguard at 27.

At the other end of the scale, only Denis Bastick, Barry Cahill and Stephen Cluxton have turned 30, while Footballer of the Year Alan Brogan hits that milestone today.

Tomas Quinn and Paul Casey, who were substitutes for September's showpiece, are also 30, meaning Dublin could feature well into the summer for some time to come.

As Bryan Cullen said in the wake of last Sunday's success: "It wouldn't make sense for anyone else to step aside."

Irish Independent