Gavin takes Dublin's young guns into battle
Dublin take the field tonight in the first AFL fixture of Jim Gavin’s management. His record with the under-21s, two All-Irelands in the past three years, 2010 and 2012, and the success of the county in general at under-age level have created an unusual amount of pressure to succeed.
It’s easy to see why. The history of repeat success – for these purposes two or more under-21 titles within a three year period – shows that all counties with such a record have ended up with at least some players graduating to senior All-Ireland medals.
Only one didn’t see a significant progression at senior level and that was Tyrone, who won back-to-back titles in 1991-91 (and had lost the 1990 final), but only Peter Canavan and Chris Lawn would go on to feature in the Sam Maguire victories of the following decade.
By then the county had recorded another two successive All-Irelands in 2000-01 and those teams produced a dozen senior medallists.
Dublin will be pleased to know that frequently the strike rate is well into double figures with Kerry’s two eras of success, 1973 and 1975 and 1995-96 and 1998, yielding nearly 20 players in each period who won senior medals.
More recently the graduates of Cork’s titles in 2007-09 ran into double figures.
In a sense, Dublin have already hit the target as both Rory O’Carroll and James McCarthy won senior medals the year after they had beaten Donegal in the 2010 under-21 final but they’ll be hoping for a more significant migration.
Two other members of the 2011 team, Cian O’Sullivan and Kevin Nolan, were products of a previous Gavin under-21 team, which narrowly lost the 2009 semi-final to eventual champions Cork.
Jim Brogan was a member of Gavin’s under-21 management as well as a selector with Pat O’Neill for the 1995 senior All-Ireland win.
He says that “Sometimes it’s down to the quality of the guys who are there already and whether you’re ready to fit into a position where new blood is needed.
“It also depends on a player’s engine. Some are very confident at under-21 because it’s a rapid-fire sequence of matches with your own peer group and it’s over in May.
“But once you’re picked out for the senior panel and your progress constantly assessed it’s not as comfortable an environment.
“Physicality and tempo will be quite different. It can be like racehorses: some like racing; some like the company of other racehorses and some just aren’t bothered!
“For instance Jack McCaffrey (from last year’s under-21s and a son of 1980s centre back Noel) has no issues whatever level he’s at. He’s confident and just plays.
“He’ll pull on the senior jersey and run up and down the line all day.”
Brogan also points to the significance of managers. In the past 20 years both the late Páidí Ó Sé and Mickey Harte have brought groups of players from under-21 success to replicating it at senior level.
Conversely, the Donegal team beaten by Dublin in 2010 was managed by Jim McGuinness, who took six of them to last year’s Sam Maguire triumph.
“Jim knows these guys and has a relationship with so he’s well equipped to get the best out of them.”
Of tonight’s starting team, four come from the under-21 winning teams and two more played on unsuccessful teams in the same grade.
Many more are on the panel for a league campaign that will in all likelihood determine their future prospects.