Thursday 26 April 2018

Paul Curran: The real competition starts now for Jim Gavin and his Dublin team

Read Paul Curran's exclusive column every week in The Herald

Dublin in action against Westmeath
Dublin in action against Westmeath

Paul Curran

Three of the four provincial championships were up for decision yesterday with Galway, Tyrone and – as expected – Dublin moving on in the competition as winners. For Roscommon, Donegal and Westmeath it’s going to be difficult to pick themselves up for a quick turnaround in the qualifiers.

Despite the lack of competition in this province the Dubs continue to churn out the victories with relative ease, although Westmeath were sticky opponents up until the half -time interval.

Trailing by just one point they would have been extremely happy under the Hogan stand as they listened to words of encouragement from Tom Cribbin and his management team. Everything in that first period had gone to plan as they attacked their opponents at every opportunity.

At the other end, their defensive system was working quite well with Francis Boyle doing a splendid job as an out-and-out sweeper. The Dublin forwards just couldn’t get into their stride and one must give credit to the rest of the Westmeath defenders for that.

Thankfully  for the Dubs, Dean Rock was on his game with the frees and he was able to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Kevin McManamon was the other Dublin forward who was busy in the opening half and he had another fine game yesterday.

While Westmeath were happy at the break, up in the “home” dressing room there would have been no banging tables or kicking water bottles. That’s just not the Jim Gavin way.

He would have been very disappointed with the way his team performed in the opening period but the message is always the same and he would have identified the areas that required significant improvement and would have spoken about the game plan and the need to stick to the process.

He would also have been very disappointed with the intensity level and that is the one thing that changed right from the throw-in to the second half.

Dublin players pushed up on their direct opponents, began to win the individual battles and once this happened there was only going to be one outcome. Westmeath will be plying their trade in the lowest division of the national league next year and that gulf in class was always going to be a factor.

Dublin, once they got into the mood, were simply unstoppable and in the opening 20 minutes after the break they outscored Westmeath by a whopping ten points to one. That period of dominance ended the game as a contest and allowed Jim Gavin empty the bench and give some valuable game time to some of the squad.

There were some great passages of play, once they got going and none better than Bernard Brogan’s goal. Calum McCormack, who had a good game, dropped a shot short into Stephen Cluxton’s hands.

What followed next was sublime. Cluxton, ignoring colleagues close by decided to kick it fifty yards to Ciaran Kilkenny. A couple of quick passes later and Bernard had the relatively easy task of palming to the net. A terrific team score.

So an 11th provincial title in just twelve seasons represents a remarkable return and they now move on to another quarter final in a few week’s time. There are plenty of things to be working on despite the big winning margin.

Jim and the players will know that for them the real competition starts now and they will also know that the opposition will be of a higher standard. Westmeath will try and lift it but one feels that they may well have gone as far as they can.

The Ulster championship has produced a few draws this year and yesterday’s final looked, for a long time like it might end in stalemate. Tyrone, however were able to pick through the Donegal defence in the second half and kick the important scores to win by just two points.

It was a dull enough affair for long periods but nobody should be surprised. All the players are interested in is winning the game. This was Tyrone’s first provincial win in six years and for Mickey Harte and Sean Cavanagh it may have been the sweetest.

Cavanagh produced the goods again yesterday when it mattered most but one feels that he and players like him are victims of modern football. Sean Cavanagh is a terrific player who kicks the most magnificent points but we don’t see enough of it.

This win will give the Tyrone players a huge boost in confidence as they prepare for a quarter final and one suspects that there isn’t a team left that will fancy meeting them.

Galway too will be very happy with their progress and with so many young players in the team they will approach the next game with an enthusiasm that could carry them into an all-Ireland semi-final.

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