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Dubs 'bang on track' says Gavin as he bids to join elite group

Dublin manager Jim Gavin sees Tyrone as strong contenders to lift the Sam Maguire Cup this year, but he's backing his forwards' firepower to bring Dublin their first Allianz Football League title in 20 years at Croke Park on Sunday.

Gavin and his new-look team are poised for a serious examination of their progress when Mickey Harte's men return to GAA Headquarters six weeks after inflicting defeat on the Dubs.

"I've been very impressed with their (Tyrone's) energy in games. Defensively, they've been very strong. They play a different system to us but they're very hard to break down, very hard to get through," said Gavin.

"When you counter-attack, it can be a big wall that they put up. They've a very strong midfield. For them to get Sean Cavanagh back fit this year has been a big plus for them. I think that's why they've really pushed on this year.

"Stephen O'Neill is obviously back to his very best. Outside of those guys, they have some very good forwards. Six guys scored against Kildare. They have three different free-takers.

"Tyrone will be very competitive in the championship and it would be no surprise for me to see them in the back end of the competition. They're going to have a big say in where the Sam Maguire goes this year."

The stage is set for a fascinating contest, with Dublin's Bernard Brogan and Tyrone's O'Neill the big attacking threats, but Gavin doesn't want his side to rely just on Brogan.

Expects

In fact, he'd be delighted if scores come from any sector of his side and expects defenders to be able to take their points if the chances arise.

"All the forwards who can score are important. But every player is replaceable. That's the system we are trying to create," he said.

"If somebody is unavailable on a particular day, somebody else can step into the breach.

"I think whatever six forwards we have are going to be very difficult to break down and I certainly believe that players who play in the full-back line should be as confident in taking a score as those in the forward division."

The Dubs boss insists that his policy is to focus on taking one game at a time, but Gavin gave a nod to history when he recalled his own pride at being part of a Dublin side which lifted the league title for the ninth time, beating Donegal in the 1993 final under Dr Pat O'Neill's management.

"It was a different league structure back then, but I would have been 22 at the time, so it was a fantastic occasion for me," he said.

"I remember the game very well. It was one of my first finals with Dublin. It was a great experience for me to play against a quality side in a big game. For us, this Sunday's no different against a quality side like Tyrone.

"For us to get an opportunity to pit ourselves against them after we played them six weeks ago is a great challenge for everybody."

If Dublin beat Tyrone – and it's a big 'if' – Gavin would have the distinction of joining an elite group of Dublin managers who played on and managed National League winning sides.

Mickey Whelan, Kevin Heffernan, Tony Hanahoe, Paddy Cullen and O'Neill are those with the distinction of winning league medals with the Dubs as well as managing them.

In Hanahoe's case, he did it as player-manager in 1978.

Gavin isn't hung up on the statistics of the past, but he has no intention of finishing up second-best on Sunday.

"We're only five months working with the players. It's a work in progress but it is great to be in a National League final against a quality side like Tyrone and to be competing for silverware so early in the season," he said.

"In terms of progress we are bang on track where we should be."

Sunday's game marks the end of one phase for Dublin as players return to their clubs for a couple of weeks.

Gavin will carefully review the league campaign before deciding on his panel for the championship which opens for the Dubs at Croke Park against the winners of Westmeath v Carlow on June 1.

Irish Independent