Monday 15 July 2019

Ciarán Whelan: Jim Gavin's new approach to League spells bad new for the rest

Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

WITH tomorrow night's double-header in Croke Park called off, now seems as good a time as any to give a mid-term report on how Dublin have fared to date in 2018.

From my perspective, I have been very impressed by what I have seen from the All-Ireland champions and I feel that they are in a very good place in terms of their ambitions for the rest of the year.

It's clearly evident that Dublin would like to regain the NFL title and you can see from Dublin's selections, that there has been much more consistency than we might have seen in previous years.

That suggests that Jim Gavin, while not completely going with the tried and trusted, has been less inclined to experiment and that has led to a greater degree of consistency in terms of the performances. 

That policy has been helped by the structure of the fixtures this year in that the season is well-mapped and divided into two distinct and separate stages.

As a result, Dublin can invest more in this year's league than in previous years and the players will enjoy a break of sorts when they return to their clubs for a period prior to returning in time for championship preparations.  

While Dublin have been slow and very methodical in how they bring players through, there have been one or two additions. I have been very impressed with how Brian Howard has fared at wing-forward.

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He may be viewed as a long-term replacement for Paul Flynn and he shares many of the attributes that made Flynn such an integral part of Dublin's recent success.

Howard has looked extremely comfortable and at ease on this stage and that is as big a compliment that I can pay him.

He is also blessed with a wonderful sidestep and his displays have been one of the key positives since the commencement of this league.

Niall Scully, who obviously earned plenty of league and championship experience last year, has also gone well and it's noticeable that Michael Darragh Macauley has featured very prominently and been given as much game time as possible.

I believe that is significant as Dublin's options are still relatively limited at midfield should anything happen to Brian Fenton.

Fenton has looked as impressive as we have seen him and the level of conditioning that both he and the rest of the Dublin panel have at this time of the year is staggering.

I felt that there may be a couple of speed bumps on the road as they arrived back to collective training quite late but they have just hit the ground running and that is testimony to the work-ethic, attitude and desire of these players. Their performances reflect a positive culture and hunger to maintain their position of supremacy and nothing that I have seen to date would discourage me in that regard.

If there was one small criticism that I would have, it's perhaps of their style of play. They seem to be playing within themselves to a certain degree.

Last Saturday's match in Castlebar was a case in point in that Dublin, given how much in control they were, could have pushed on and really put Mayo to the sword.

However, they played a containment game for the final quarter, failing to score in over 20 minutes, and that's not something that this particular Dublin team is renowned for.

I would imagine that is the instructions and tactics that Jim Gavin wants to fine-tune and it may be something that will stand to them later in year in terms of controlling possession and restricting their opponents in the concluding stages of championship matches.

Of course, that is just nit-picking really as we have been spoiled by the expansive and attacking style of football that we have been privileged to witness as supporters and analysts.

Ultimately, Dublin are unbeaten and look primed to make the league final and the same cannot be said about their next opponents Kerry (now rescheduled for tomorrow week).

Despite losses to Monaghan and Galway, the Kingdom should be patient given the large number of new players such as Jason Foley, Seán O'Shea and David Clifford having been handed their senior starts. They are very much in transition and should be given time to find their collective feet.

Read Ciaran Whelan every week in the Herald

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