Business as usual sees Dubs edge past Lakemen
Dublin 0-12 Westmeath 0-11
An orange weather alert hung over the country yesterday evening but for the GAA the black storm that some felt might whip up on the opening day of action in 2014 failed to materialise.
In Mullingar, where the All-Ireland champions Dublin were back in competitive action for the first time since September, referee David Coldrick only had one incident where the new colour might briefly have been considered but he rightly opted to show yellow to Daragh Nelson for his high challenge on Westmeath's Paul Sharry on 48 minutes.
With the new rule ratified almost a year now, the majority of players were always going to be conscious of desisting from cynical behaviour. In pre-season provincial competitions, that element of desperation just isn't there.
The real tests for the new deterrent lie ahead when the league resumes next month. Just about everyone agrees on that. The advantage rule got much more of an airing in Mullingar with Coldrick using it wisely to allow play to flow, especially in the first half when he deployed it a number of times, bringing play back for a Dublin free on one occasion when Ciaran Kilkenny was fouled but gained no advantage within the five seconds permitted.
The free count was still around average, however (13-5 to Westmeath in that first half), which perhaps underlines how referees have been playing advantage for a few years before any official entry into the rule book.
Dublin went through last season losing just an O'Byrne Cup final after extra-time to Kildare and a league match to Tyrone and, on this evidence, they have the strength in depth to maintain a similar strike rate in the months ahead.
Westmeath had advantages, including home venue and a longer preparatory period. They also had more first-team players available, but that's down to a lack of numbers that just isn't an issue anymore with Dublin.
Kilkenny and Stephen Cluxton were the only All-Ireland starters selected, and when Bryan Cullen and Kevin McManamon withdrew beforehand it looked like it robbed them of more grit and experience.
But in Cullen's place at centre-back Darren Daly was probably man of the match, while Harry Dawson acquitted himself well up front in his first senior bow.
Two cogs of Pat Gilroy's defence, 2011 All-Ireland winners Mick Fitzsimons and Kevin Nolan, were having their first starts under the new management having being restricted by injury to short cameo roles last season.
For both, given the level of competition that exists, especially in the half-back line where 2012 All-Ireland minor winner Eric Lowndes is sure to press his case, it is a defining year in terms of where their inter-county careers are headed. Cullen, too, can do with some opportunities to lay down a marker.
"Both those players (Fitzsimons and Nolan) and a lot more have shown great attitude last year and again over the last week," acknowledged Gavin.
"They're very determined to push on and stake their claims for league and championship and there are no guarantees for any player that played last year. For us, 2013 is definitely in the past."
Naturally, both sides were prone to technical error -- even Cluxton failed to find his preferred target from five of the first eight kick-outs -- but it was still a competitive outing and they were level eight times.
Only Dublin managed to put any sustained daylight between the sides when they pushed 0-8 to 0-5 clear in the 38th minute after another debutant, Conor Walsh -- who is a club-mate of the Brogans at Oliver Plunkett's/Eoghan Ruadh -- fired over a point.
"We're only back eight days and a lot of technical errors in handling and kick-passing, shooting, but that's to be expected. We got nine scores from play out of the 12, which wasn't a bad return," said Gavin.
Gavin has been supportive of the black card and felt his players benefited from good education in recent weeks.
"We got some very good briefings from officials within Dublin and from Croke Park and the players are well up to speed on it," he said.
"David Coldrick handled the game very, very well. Great use of the advantage rule, and I thought the new rules worked.
"The Dublin County Board were supportive of the black card and Dublin football team management support the black card, and I think it's good for the game.
"(We) didn't see one there today but I'm sure all players on both sides were very conscious of it. But still, I think the referee let the game develop and there were some good tackles going in, some mis-timed tackles, but again, it's to be expected at this time of the season and the referee took the right decision to give players yellow cards, as opposed to the cynical play that wasn't on view today."
For Westmeath, the scale of the challenge facing them in the early part of the season can't be underestimated.
The suggestion that the battle to stay in the top flight of the league through February and March would be 'tough' was an "understatement", according to their manager Paul Bealin.
Still, Dessie Dolan's introduction sparked a recovery in the last quarter, with two points from their veteran forward helping them into a 0-11 to 0-10 lead. Whatever the legs say, the class just doesn't disappear. But Lowndes and Kilkenny closed it out for Dublin with late points.
Westmeath set themselves up very defensively with often just two or three players in attack and all the half-forwards withdrew to deep positions, an alignment that may be necessary to prevent serious damage in Division 1. Steven Gilmore, Paul Sharry and David Duffy were among those to give Bealin something from the afternoon.
"For me, it was about the performance and if we can perform against a Dublin squad and give ourselves a chance to win the game and keep the score tight as much as we possibly can, then so be it," said Bealin.
Scorers -- Dublin: P Hudson 0-4 (3fs), C Kilkenny, J Whelan 0-2 each, E Lowndes, H Dawson, C Walsh, E Fanning all 0-1 each.
Westmeath: A Giles 0-3 (3fs), P Sharry (2fs), Dessie Dolan 0-2 each, L Smith, J Gonoud, D Duffy, C McCormack 0-1 each.
Dublin -- S Cluxton; D Nelson, S George, M Fitzsimons; E Lowdnes, D Daly, K Nolan; D O'Mahony, S Carthy; C Walsh, H Dawson, J Whelan; P Hudson, C Kilkenny, P Ryan. Subs: E Fanning for Ryan (h-t), J Cooper for George (54), C Guckian for Nolan (54), C Mullins for O'Mahony (57).
Westmeath -- D Quinn; S Gilmore, S Flynn, Damien Dolan; J Gonoud, J Gilligan, J Egan; D Duffy, D Coroon; L Smith, G Hoey, P Sharry; K Daly, A Giles, C McCormack. Subs: T McDaniels for K Daly (46), Dessie Dolan for Giles (56), S Daly for Smith (61), D Harte for Hoey (64).
Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath)