Gavin still looking for 'perfection' ahead of Tyrone test
GAME five of Dublin's first league campaign under Jim Gavin's management and Tyrone come calling to Croke Park tonight.
The big question is, will Mickey Harte's side go home with their tails between their legs as Kildare did last weekend, or will Tyrone prove to be a massive speed bump in the path of the runaway Dublin juggernaut?
It's an intriguing fixture.
Tyrone have lost only one game and lie second in Division 1, while Gavin's men have garnered every point available in their four outings. The Dubs have put Cork, Kerry, Mayo and the Lilywhites to the sword, and their collective scoring efforts have yielded 6-63 for, and 4-36 against.
Two of those goals against came from poor defending against Kildare, who were beaten by 13 points. Dublin manager Gavin was disappointed with the concession of those scores, which put a slight blot on the copybook.
Those errors were discussed during the week and Gavin will hope for a more resolute performance this evening by goalkeeper Shane Supple and the Blues defenders.
On the broad front, a pattern is emerging as Gavin shuffles his pack of players, which at one time numbered over 50, to distil the essence of a championship side.
As he says, it is a "work in progress" but he has given every chance for younger players to shine and will also keep the door open for Ballymun Kickhams players who have impressed him.
Meanwhile, the core of four teams he has fielded was a canny mix of young talent and more experienced warriors. Defensive starters in each game were Kevin O'Brien, Rory O'Carroll, Jonny Cooper and Darren Daly.
Cian O'Sullivan, selected at centre-back against Tyrone, had two starts and a substitute appearance in midfield, and was given a starting centre-back role against Kildare.
The other performers to feature in midfield are Michael Darragh Macauley (three starts), Declan O'Mahony (three starts) and Eoin O'Conghaile (one).
In the forwards, Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, and Paddy Andrews have played every match, while Diarmuid Connolly started three times and is selected for the Tyrone game, as are Brogan, Flynn and Andrews.
The form of that latter trio is indicated by Brogan being named man of the match twice in the Irish Independent ratings, while Andrews and Flynn achieved that distinction against Cork and Kildare respectively.
Ciaran Reddin (three starts, one sub appearance) is also in tonight's team, and the St Maurs man is relishing the chance to put himself in the shop window for the bigger tests to come.
Goals win matches and Dublin have hit their opponents' net six times. Brogan has a total haul of 2-28 – the other goalscorers were Connolly (penalty), Craig Dias, Kevin McManamon and Jack McCaffrey.
Andrews has contributed 13 points, while Ciaran Kilkenny's decision to come home from Australia has been a boon.
In many areas, Gavin can be pleased but he is not satisfied yet with the end product, although he's not surprised at the good form shown by his former U-21 players, especially McCaffrey and Kilkenny.
"They're still learning. I've worked with them very closely before so I'd be acutely aware of their strengths. That's why they were given opportunities," he said.
"You are always reflecting on the performance and on how the team played and on the tactics you deployed, so it's very much a cycle of you looking back on stuff and trying to improve.
"I still haven't got that game yet where you can say there has been perfection in it. That's a long way away, and you are continuously looking at areas to improve on."
Harte and his Tyrone men would love to bring the high-flying Dubs down to earth tonight, and Gavin is acutely aware of the quality the Red Hand bring.
Longer term he expects Harte's side to mount a serious challenge in championship fare, but tonight Gavin is focused only on his own players.
"Mickey Harte's record of success speaks for itself," said Gavin.
"Look at the spine of the current team – Gormley (Conor), McMahon (Joe), Cavanagh (Sean), Harte (Peter) and O'Neill (Stephen) – right up the middle Tyrone are very strong with lots of experience, so they'll have a big impact this year.
"For us, it's nice to win but winning isn't the be-all and end-all. We're looking towards June and trying to have things sorted out by that stage.
"I don't expect the players to be 100pc at this stage in the season.
"We are only with them three months now and it is very much a work in progress."
Dublin (v Tyrone) – S Supple; K O'Brien, R O'Carroll, J Cooper; J McCaffrey, C O'Sullivan, D Daly; D O'Mahoney, MD Macauley; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, C Reddin; P Andrews, D Connolly, B Brogan.