Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 20 January 2018

Gavin enjoying embarrassment of Dublin riches

Conor Counihan and Jim Gavin enjoy a light-hearted moment at the launch of the Allianz Football League at Croke Park
Conor Counihan and Jim Gavin enjoy a light-hearted moment at the launch of the Allianz Football League at Croke Park
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

DUBLIN manager Jim Gavin began the tricky process of paring down his extended squad in the immediate aftermath of Saturday night's O'Byrne Cup defeat to Kildare.

There won't be a clear public picture of what that squad will look like until the latter end of the league campaign because of injuries and college commitments.

But it's clear already that, in football, no management team faces a tougher task to trim their numbers into the 26 that will frame their championship squad later in the season. The crumbs that will fall from the table would satisfy the cravings of a lot of other counties.

Of course, they'll keep greater numbers than that, and the immediacy of the Leinster U-21 campaign will ensure that many of the younger players will be busy on a competitive front, probably until early April when the provincial final in the grade could pit them against Kildare in a repeat of their epic trilogy of minor matches three years ago.

But even defeat against Kildare couldn't mask the depth of Dublin football right now – the talent Gavin will have at his disposal over the next few seasons.

A glance at the 15 in the accompanying panel here that weren't available for one reason or another to Gavin on Saturday night illustrates just how deep the talent pool is.

Kildare had their own absentees on Saturday but nothing on the scale of their opponents.

The potential for Dublin football's strongest ever squad? It's hard to argue with that. The organisation of Dublin at underage level over the last decade is really bearing fruit now.

It won't guarantee silverware, as Gaelic football has a habit of diverting off the straight lines normally projected for translating underage success into tangible senior reward.

Tyrone, for example, are still seeking to reap real benefits from their All-Ireland minor successes of 2008 and 2010.

But from one to 30 there won't be a stronger inter-county squad around in 2013 than Dublin's.

Gavin has worked off a squad of more than 50 players since late October but between long-term injuries to players like Mick Fitzsimons, Alan Brogan and Eoghan O'Gara, the involvement of Ballymun Kickhams in the All-Ireland club championship and third-level commitments, many have yet to feature.

The injection of so many of the minor team from the last two seasons has been quicker than anticipated but their exposure over the last few weeks has really crystallised just how deep the talent pool is.

Gavin has made it clear that quick exposure to this level of football was always a priority for him. They showed everything except consistency in his estimation last weekend.

Seven of the 23 players used on Saturday night were under 20, coming off the 2011-12 conveyor belt that also includes Ciaran Kilkenny.

"There were some good performances (against Kildare) but they weren't consistent. At times they played well and at other times they found the going tough," Gavin said.

"For me, that's what the pre-season tournament is all about, it's trying to expose them to the next level of football. We've had success at underage. The challenge now is for the U-21 manager and the senior manager to try and translate that into titles, and that's what lies ahead of us.

"If we had a more seasoned team in the second half of that game last weekend, it might have been a different result. But we need to give these guys opportunities to express themselves, and when they did we got some great performances and they looked at ease on the field of play.

"We've identified a few players that we believe could make the transition, either this year or next year, and it's an opportunity to introduce them to a senior inter-county set-up and expose them to what's required at the highest level."

Kilkenny's return earlier this month served further to illustrate just how great the options available to the new Dublin management are.

"I wasn't surprised because Ciaran is very much his own man. He's very mature for a guy of such a young age. He's got a very solid family background, and he's always done what's best for himself, and I would fully endorse that. When he went to Australia, for him at the time it was the best choice."

But dealing with so many young players from the perspective of a senior inter-county manager for the first time has convinced Gavin even more that action has to taken to address the fixtures bottleneck that February so often presents.

"The launch of the league, in the middle of the Sigerson Cup, doesn't make sense to me," he said.

"We've got Sigerson tomorrow (Tuesday), one or two players are playing hurling – Fitzgibbon – on Thursday. Even the dual aspect, trying to get players to play both codes, if that's what the GAA want, then why put the competitions two days apart?

"It just doesn't make sense to me. And then asking them to play National League, a really competitive game, on a Saturday? To me it seems very compact."

Meanwhile, the Dublin manager has said he accepts Central Council's decision to cut the numbers allowed on the sideline from 12 to five.

At half-time in extra-time in the O'Byrne Cup final, up to 13 members of the Dublin back-room had gathered in the middle of the field for consultation.

"A lot of the guys are coaching staff. I'm the manager, I'm the guy who ultimately needs to make the final call on team switches, team selection. I might seek guys' advice, but I can either use it or throw it away. So I'm not particularly upset about the new rules," he said.

"If I think they need to be miked up, I'll mike them up, and if not I'll either walk up to the stand to talk to them or meet them at half-time. When I heard about it I wasn't bothered."

Irish Independent

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