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Spring glory can prepare Dublin for summer heat

SHORTLY after Jim Gavin was appointed to replace Pat Gilroy last October, Dublin were installed as favourites to win the league, a position they maintained during the pre-season competitions and throughout the divisional games.

Indeed, Dublin's price shortened as the season progressed and has now reached a ludicrously short 4/11 to beat Tyrone, their only conquerors so far.

However, since odds are dictated by the public, market sentiment clearly demonstrates that there is a widely held view that Dublin have targeted the league with a determined intent which won't be stopped. Everything about Gavin's demeanour has supported that view.

Of course, there's nothing about Mickey Harte's approach to suggest that he's not equally focused on masterminding another league success, just as he did in his first season as Tyrone manager 10 years ago. Five months later, Tyrone were celebrating their first All-Ireland title win.

Like Brian Cody, Harte has always operated on the basis that every game and every competition is there to be won. It's a sensible approach, based on the unquestionable logic that says that if a team is playing well at any time of year, it's one less thing to worry about.

GUARANTEE

Granted, league success is no guarantee of championship glory but, at the same time, there's no reason why competency in spring can't be built into something even more substantial in summer.

Results over the past decade bear that out. Kerry completed the league/All-Ireland double in 2004-06-09; Tyrone (2003) and Cork (2010) also doubled up, while Dublin won the 2011 All-Ireland after narrowly losing the league final.

Indeed, with the exception of last year, Dublin did well in the league under Gilroy, without actually winning it. It was also interesting that Dublin's championship form dipped last year after a poor league.

That's one of the reasons why it made perfect sense for Gavin to target the league. Equally important was the need to integrate new players while moulding his ideas around the older panel members.

It was designed to head into May with the championship model vigorously road-tested.

It has all gone very much to plan for Dublin. Newcomers Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey have grown with each outing, Paddy Andrews is enjoying the opportunity to show his talents over an extended period and Bernard Brogan continues to lead the scoring pack.

Gavin's options in attack are so extensive that settling on the starting six (plus the top two to three replacements) will be quite a challenge. The situation is more fluid further back, with nobody having locked down the second midfield berth alongside Michael Darragh Macauley.

And while the defence had the best record in Division 1, there's still a doubt over whether it's secure enough to withstand the type of raiding parties that prowl the championship prairies.

While Dublin started as league favourites, Tyrone were ranked more likely to return to Division 2 than to challenge for the title. That was due to the perceived level of opposition in the group (as it happened Kerry, Donegal and Cork all misfired), plus doubts over how smoothly Tyrone's transition would progress.

The latter process has gone well and with Stephen O'Neill displaying the form of old, Tyrone hummed nicely all the way, except against Cork when they scored only 0-8.

Otherwise, their scoring average has been 1-14 which, when coupled with a secure defence and a functional midfield, makes for an enterprising package.

As the only team to beat Dublin, they have extra confidence and since they hold a good record in finals, they will certainly feel that this is the ideal opportunity to sign off on the spring action by flashing out a clear warning to Donegal, whom they meet in the Ulster championship on May 26.

However, there has been something about Dublin that suggests their graph is on a steep upward curve. Their slick passing and all-round energy meant they won several games while playing within themselves, although that wasn't the case against Tyrone, who beat them by a point.

It was close that night and is likely to be the same tomorrow with Dublin fancied to launch the Gavin era with a first league title success since 1993.

Verdict: Dublin

Dublin – S Cluxton; K O'Brien, J Cooper, D Daly; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; M Dara Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, D Connolly, B Cullen; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan.

Tyrone – N Morgan; P J Quinn, C Clarke, C McCarron; C Gormley, D Carlin, Justin McMahon; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh; Mattie Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, Joe McMahon; M Penrose, S O'Neill, P McNeice.

REF – M Duffy (Sligo)

Irish Independent