Wednesday 25 April 2018

Rookies' progress more important to Gavin than result

Dublin manager Jim Gavin has stressed tonight's league clash with Donegal is all about the 'performance' and not about revenge for last summer's All-Ireland semi-final shock
Dublin manager Jim Gavin has stressed tonight's league clash with Donegal is all about the 'performance' and not about revenge for last summer's All-Ireland semi-final shock
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

No matter how Jim Gavin tries to dress it up, tonight's league clash with Donegal matters, but perhaps not in the most obvious way.

He stressed mid-week that it was all about the "performance" and not about revenge for last summer's All-Ireland semi-final shock.

"The world moves on, that game is in the past," Gavin emphasised of that pivotal game when the reigning champions lost out to a Donegal side that got what they didn't: goals.

A rematch in the second round of the Allianz League is far too early to assess them but Gavin looks ready, by design or circumstances, to give some bench-warmers and newcomers a chance to establish themselves over this league and it is, arguably, for those that this game most matters.

Fronting up, in front of a big home crowd, is the sort of opportunity you need to maximise if you want to break into Dublin's start-studded team.

With Bryan Cullen retired, Alan Brogan's future still uncertain, a group of key players still not ready to return (Stephen Cluxton, Paul Flynn, James McCarthy, Cian O'Sullivan) and a few stars (Diarmuid Connolly, Ger Brennan) club-tied, rare vacancies have opened up.

As usual Gavin experimented heavily in January and even before last weekend's league opener against Cork he had used a whopping 41 players in six games, which included gradually easing back Rory O'Carroll, Jonny Cooper, Jack McCaffrey, Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh Macauley and Cormac Costello.

Losing first day out on Leeside was not ideal and Dublin's bench - responsible for more than 20pc of their scoring last year - didn't provide their usual bounce.

That wasn't surprising given that so many of their regular super-subs are starting at present. Dean Rock, who started all six of their unbeaten O'Byrne Cup games, scored 0-38 (26fs, 2 '45s') to finally earn his long-awaited first league start.

Lucan's Emmet O'Conghaile, a dual minor star who has also won two All-Ireland U-21s (2012, '14), has started all seven games to date, mostly partnering fit-again Denis Bastick in midfield.

Another ever-present is Kilmacud's Eoin Culligan, covering at full-back until O'Carroll returned and then at corner-back. He is another All-Ireland U21 winner but from 2010, from the team that included Rock, McCarthy, O'Carroll, Cooper and Nicky Devereux.

Problem

Ballymun's John Small, a key member of last year's All-Ireland winning U-21 team, has also been ever-present at centre-back, a problem position last year once Ger Brennan got injured.

Up front Tomas Brady and Shane Carthy have held firm and Darren Daly and Devereux are two more seeing a lot of game-time.

Paul Mannion's studies have temporarily taken him to China but, of his 2014 U-21 team-mates, a lot is expected of Conor McHugh and Niall Scully; Brian Fenton, Eric Lowndes, Davy Byrne and goalkeeper Lorcan Molloy are also being given a chance.

Winning a third league in a row is hardly more important right now than evolving further as a team. For once 'the performance', in front of their home crowd, will be what matters, especially for their rookies.

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