Ruthless Gavin puts his stamp on Dublin
New boss has focused his drive for success on five critical areas, writes Cliona Foley
JASON Sherlock was one of the first to acknowledge the elephant in the room: that 16-point wins in their first two championship games could be counter-productive for Dublin's All-Ireland ambitions.
Destroying arch-enemies Kildare in what was deemed the harder side of the Leinster draw will hardly sustain them when they are looking to make the hard yards come August.
But, like Sherlock, his former team-mate Senan Connell concluded that this year's model has such experience and depth that they should be immune from the hype that will follow two early cakewalks.
"When I was playing there were a few years where we waltzed through Leinster playing what people called champagne football," TV3 analyst Connell said.
"But we had serious problems when we got to the August Bank Holiday weekend, when teams just decided to park the bus in front of us.
"But I genuinely think this team is different, I can't see them getting caught in that trap or any of the hype.
"First of all, half of the team have already won an All-Ireland and most of the younger lads have won them at underage level.
"They've already won a tough league final this year and also went up to Donegal and dug out a draw with their backs to the wall.
"Beating Tyrone and Donegal in the league, and winning silverware already, means their confidence isn't brittle like ours would have been.
"Whether you call it bottle or mettle, this team certainly appear to have it. And we probably didn't know quite how to win, but these guys know exactly what's needed.
"Jim Gavin is also a most measured man. People are talking about the danger of complacency but I'll guarantee that the Kildare game will be parked at training (tonight) and probably won't be mentioned again.
"And the other big thing is the huge competition for places that's obviously there.
"Compared to back in 2010 even, there is now literally a platoon of players there now.
"Players like Kevin Nolan, Bryan Cullen, Mick Fitzsimons, Philly McMahon, these are fellas that would probably be starting in most counties but are on the bench. Having talent like that looking over your shoulder means everyone will be on their toes."
The way that Dublin obliterated Kildare last Sunday certainly underlined five differences under new manager Gavin this year.
Kieran McGeeney was confident beforehand that his young Kildare players had the football skills but confessed he wasn't sure if they had the necessary physicality yet. His fears proved to be well-placed.
Gavin brought in a new strength and conditioning regime. He recruited Martin Kennedy, who had been working with the county hurlers. Kennedy is a sports scientist who runs his own 'National Athletic Development Academy' (NADA) in Clonsilla and lectures at Blanchardstown IT.
Dublin still do their pitch training at DCU but their strength work is now done at NADA. Their young players have also arrived with a high level of strength and conditioning amassed while winning two All-Ireland U-21s in three years (2010 and 2012).
Despite all their own training Kildare couldn't live with their combination of strength and pace.
Several of this year's Leinster U-21 champions had excelled for Kildare against Offaly but their first senior championship in front of the Hill seemed to rattle them. They didn't show remotely the same sort of composure as Ciaran Kilkenny and Paul Mannion, who both won All-Ireland U-21 medals a year ago.
Some of Dublin's bigger names – Paddy Andrews and Bernard Brogan – were quiet on Sunday by their standards but Dublin's two newest young forwards really took the game to Kildare early on, and likewise with Jack McCaffrey in defence.
Diarmuid Connolly sacrificed his natural predatory instincts to set up others. Paul Flynn hunted down Emmet Bolton, McCaffrey gave Paul Cribbin a start but still got back to dispossess him.
Michael Darragh Macauley, literally, staggered with a back injury yet still ran himself back into the game.
That all happened in the first half and, even in the dying minutes, when Dublin led by 12 points, Nicky Devereux put his body on the line to win a ball in his own goalmouth. And Dublin still pushed on to score another 1-1!
Gavin showed no sentimentality by whipping Andrews off at half-time and Brogan by the 48th minute. Replacing them were two men central to Dublin's 2011 All-Ireland run and both caused chaos.
Kevin McManamon created goals with two of his trademark runs while Eoghan O'Gara, making his first appearance of the year after battling back from two elective hip surgeries, promptly scored 1-1 on his return. Of Dublin's 2011 winners Bryan Cullen, Kevin Nolan and Mick Fitzsimons weren't even called off the bench, while All-Ireland U-21 winners Devereux, Dean Rock (both 2010) and Kevin O'Brien (2012) got on ahead of them.
Any new manager usually coincides with considerable 'first-year' bounce as players bust a gut to impress him.
Leading Dublin to two All-Ireland U-21 victories put Gavin in a particularly strong position. He inherited a team of All-Ireland senior winners and was also familiar with their rising stars whom he has been unafraid to blood.
As a man who used to fly the government jet during his lengthy career in the Air Corps and is now in a teaching role in Irish aviation, he also appears to be exceptionally dispassionate, disciplined and focused.
Asked about how well his substitutes had done on Sunday, he said: "They were all made on their own merits, regardless of the score. Take from that what you may."
Three hours after Sunday's victory an email was sent, stating that Dublin will hold their Leinster SFC final press conference tomorrow morning ... at 8.0.