Saturday 17 March 2018

Does Jim Gavin need to take the Brian Cody route to replay success?

Eoghan O’Gara in action against Chris Barrett during Sunday’s final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Eoghan O’Gara in action against Chris Barrett during Sunday’s final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Michael Verney and Donnchadh Boyle

Yes, says Michael Verney: There's a fine line between keeping faith with players who have underpinned success under your stewardship and showing too much loyalty to them when performance levels consistently drop below their normal standards.

Such is the conundrum facing Jim Gavin, not only after Sunday's inept forward return, but throughout the knock-out stages, with star forwards Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan, in particular, struggling to scale the heights of previous seasons.

With eight All-Stars between them, the attacking pair have dazzled in the past decade but both have been off-colour this season and were peripheral final figures as Dublin's grip on Sam Maguire nearly slipped away.

Given what they have offered the Dubs during their stellar careers, it seems both are nearly undroppable, but Dublin boss Gavin might live to rue that blind allegiance and should consider adopting the approach of hurling supremo Brian Cody.

The question must be asked, would Flynn and Brogan survive under Cody's watch? That's a definite no.

If you're performing to your ability and contributing to the side, hurling's greatest manager has no problem leaving things as is but if you're not, he is quick to wield the axe.

For the 2012 and 2014 All-Ireland final replays, Cody appreciated that change was needed after Galway and Tipperary exploited weaknesses and he didn't think twice about displaying a ruthless streak when overhauling his side by casting many faithful servants aside when he felt the need arose.

The net result was that the previously unheralded Walter Walsh, and Kieran Joyce, walked away with man-of-the-match awards in those two Liam MacCarthy triumphs.

During Cody's record-breaking managerial career, he has had no issue dropping Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh or Brian Hogan when he felt a lack of form warranted it.

With an air of complacency possibly evident as the Dubs chased back-to-back titles and immortality, an attacking rejig might be just what the doctor ordered. Six points from play in nearly 80 minutes is unthinkable for the Dubs, and this week's video analysis will make for grim viewing for the likes of Brogan, Flynn and Kevin McManamon.

Touted as a potential Footballer of the Year before the weekend, McManamon delivered a subdued display and was the first voluntary substitution.

Only Paddy Andrews, who was their top scorer from play with two points after his introduction, made any impact in a misfiring forward division.

The rampaging Flynn of two years ago is a distant memory, while Brogan, one of the great scoring forwards of his or any generation, has hit just two points in his last three games and has been called ashore early on two occasions.

We've been expecting them to explode into the season but it hasn't materialised yet.

And you can only wait so long before missing the boat. Dublin's much lauded panel needs to be put to good use, and one or two of Eoghan O'Gara, Paul Mannion, Cormac Costello and possible bolter Con O'Callaghan should be parachuted into the fray.

No, says Donnchadh Boyle

Given some of the analysis of Dublin since Sunday, it’s hard to believe that only last week we were talking about where this side would stand in the pantheon of great teams if they were to win the All-Ireland title this year.

Lifting Sam Maguire would make it four titles in six years for Dublin, a record that would stand proudly against almost every other team in the history of the game.

For some, retaining the All-Ireland title was the last step Dublin needed to take to secure their place amongst the immortals.

For others, like Kerry legend Tomás Ó Sé, this is already the greatest Dublin team of all time, regardless of whether they get the job done on Saturday week. Their form in league and championship has been enough to convince him of their bona fides in that regard.

That is where the discourse surrounding this Dublin team was at before throw-in on Sunday. There were no major calls for changes to the side Jim Gavin was picking. So 70 minutes shouldn’t change that dramatically.

Their dominance is plain for all to see through cold hard numbers. This is the team that had gone 27 games unbeaten across league and championship. Last Sunday that figure clicked on to 28.

This is also the team that had come from five points down to outscore Kerry by 0-13 to 0-6 in the second half of an All-Ireland semi-final.

That was another display of their power and arguably the summit of what they have achieved to date, given the absence of Footballer of the Year Jack McCaffrey and All-Star full-back Rory O’Carroll along with the deficit they carried into half-time.

There were other factors to consider too. The dismissal of James McCarthy upset the team early on and saw changes ripple through the side.

And after one poor show in difficult conditions against a Mayo side who have proven themselves to be one of the most hardened, competitive and streetwise teams around, there’s a call for a team to be overhauled? It sounds like revisionism gone mad.

There will be tweaks, of course. Gavin wouldn’t hold the reputation he does if he didn’t explore every possible avenue he could in order for Dublin to improve. And the nature of team sports means that individuals will come into and go out of form.

The challenge presented by opposition will determine what approach needs to be taken into account too. And Dublin will have learned much from last Sunday.

It’s true the likes of Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn haven’t met their own high standards and may come under pressure this week, especially considering the talent Gavin is holding in reserve. Paddy Andrews made a strong claim on Sunday. Paul Mannion too.

But to suggest an overhaul of one of the most dominant teams the game has ever seen is quite simply premature.

This Dublin team and its individual parts have enough credit in the bank to remain largely intact for the replay. There is at least one more kick in them. And who is to say what is left in the tank after that?

Irish Independent

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