Friday 24 November 2017

Gavin delight at 'growing momentum' as champions gear up for first meaningful test

Jim Gavin is looking forward to his Dublin team taking on Tyrone, although he said on Saturday he hasn’t seen the Ulster champions play since the pair’s league clash. Photo: Sportsfile
Jim Gavin is looking forward to his Dublin team taking on Tyrone, although he said on Saturday he hasn’t seen the Ulster champions play since the pair’s league clash. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

For those patient enough to wallow in the vivid spectrum of one of our national game's greatest teams, the rewards were plenty - for those with Sky Blue-tinted glasses anyway.

But this was never, sadly, a sporting contest.

Dublin were playing two games of football in the cathedral, one of them the routine filleting of an opponent that had barely turned up, and another in preparation of an old adversary waiting menacingly.

Jim Gavin kept a straight face when he declared subsequently that he had not seen Tyrone play since the sides' last meeting in February. But he and his brains trust have been planning for an expected August duel since well before then.

So too Tyrone counterpart Mickey Harte as both men continue to re-calibrate their methods ahead of each team's first meaningful championship test.

Weaknesses

It's difficult to assess how good Dublin and Tyrone were: the victors' strengths can only be viewed through the prism of their victims' weaknesses.

"We can see the momentum growing within our management team and this is the right time of the season to be seeing it," offered the circumspect Gavin.

Dublin's latest success might seem facile but it requires endless hours of preparation to allow simplicity and excellence to seem so natural.

"A lot of hard work was done in the shadows," said Gavin. "You saw when Monaghan got a run there, they showed the capacity to take some great scores if we let them. But I thought our defence was very strong."

And getting stronger. Jonny Cooper's return solidified a full-back line that had creaked against Kildare the previous day.

His presence at full-back allowed Mick Fitzsimons and Philly McMahon to defend on the front foot, confidently batting away danger, assured that their colleague would be on hand to sniff out any further danger.

And, with Stephen Cluxton reminding all that his primary duties as a netminder remain as imperious as the day he started his journey here, the composure swept through the field.

Cian O'Sullivan was a portrait of languid excellence, Brian Fenton restored to his free-wheeling self after the recent dip in his supernova status.

And, while the Dubs don't carry the ruthless executioner's streak of recent times, there is a remorselessness to their attacking play now. The numbers on the players' backs are largely redundant -only Cluxton remained a constant amongst the dizzying whirr of rotation. Dublin are content to work their way through a massed defence, patiently holding on to the ball for an age.

It can seem an exercise in possession for the sake of it but in fact every pass and move had a purpose, whether the movement of inside forwards from in to out or the overlapping quest to seek a shooter.

A couple of times they scored points stemming from nigh-on two minutes of possession; James McCarthy's point on the cusp of half-time was a study in tempo, quick-slow-quick-slow, never a note out of place.

"They're getting better at playing against packed defences and getting used to doing it in Croke Park, and that makes it harder for the northern teams," said Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke.

"Certainly the game the next day won't be a traditional 15 on 15, that's for sure," said Gavin.

"So we need to be controlled in those phases and I thought we did that when it was required in the first half. No doubt that will be required from us in three weeks also if we are going to take this Tyrone team on.

"High-scoring? Again, it probably depends on the conditions, but it's going to be a close game.

"My recollection of the game here in February… I thought they were very fit for February.

"They were covering the ground really, really well. It was very, very impressive. We just hung in there and showed great resilience to eke something out of that game.

"Over the last number of seasons, Dublin-Tyrone games have been nip and tuck and I don't expect anything different in three weeks' time."

And will a certain Diarmuid Connolly emerge from the shadows? "We'll see."

Irish Independent

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