Jim Gavin hones panel that likes the dirty jobs as well as the glamour
Dublin manager not surprised by hard graft put in by his new-look defence in Leitrim
The Dublin team stand for the national anthem before playing Roscommon in Carrick-on-Shannon. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Perception is everything. When Dublin and Donegal met in their regular league fixture in Croke Park on Easter Saturday night, the shorthand version of the game was of Total Football versus Total Defence. That interpretation ignored the irritating fact that Rory Gallagher’s team had scored just one point less than Dublin even after that match.
Since Jim Gavin took over as Dublin manager, the emphasis has been on expressive, attacking football, and when his team are in full flow they are a joy to watch – and often overwhelming for the opposition.
The quality of Dublin’s attack has helped to disguise the evolution of Dublin’s hyper vigilant defensive game. Roscommon, under Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell, have emulated Dublin’s faith in attacking football. Roscommon have been the stand-out attacking team in this year’s league. Yet they only managed 0-3 in the first half against the visiting Dubs. It was their lowest first half total of the league season.
Why? Because at times on Sunday they ran into a defensive line every bit as thick and sticky as any obstacle presented by Tyrone, Donegal or Kerry. This was a new look Dublin defence: Kevin O’Brien was auditioning at full back, Eric Lowndes named at number six and Michael Savage kept goal for Dublin. Cian O’Sullivan’s late inclusion greatly deepened the experience and he gave a masterful first-half exhibition at centre-back/sweeper, cancelling out Roscommon’s attempts at finding Senan Kilbride with the killer inside pass.
Dublin weren’t concerned about the glamour side of things. It was about not coughing up easy scores. Here’s Gavin talking at pitchside about how his new charges did.
“I have seen in our practice sessions that these players are very determined and ambitious and take great pride in representing their clubs and ultimately their county. So to see the level of commitment they showed against a fantastic Roscommon side was no surprise to me.
“And what I was equally impressed by was that resilience and control they showed despite having not had much game time with us over the season. To show that control when Roscommon threw everything at them and they could still hold out and eke a few scores . . . we created opportunities in the second half . . . maybe one pass too many but it is great to see players trying to be creative in these conditions.
“To see Rob McDaid from Ballyboden St Enda’s being thrown in there at the deep end and being able to swim. Paul Mannion is back. Great to see Eoghan O’Gara take the field after a year out of the game. He is a big character in the squad and we are delighted for him.”
Most of Gavin’s post-match observations tend to highlight blue-collar qualities: grit, determination, ambition, pride. Away games are the perfect opportunity to hone these qualities. Successive Dublin managers have had to grin and bear it as they listened to nationwide accusations that the city team have it soft by playing in Croke Park so often.
Gavin has made his point by winning on the road: victories in Castlebar and Newry preceded this closing road-trip to Carrick-on-Shannon – via Roscommon. Gavin was quizzed at length about the Sunday morning venue switch and sympathised with the Dublin fans who only heard the news after landing in deepest Roscommon. The Dublin management had a sense on Saturday evening that a switch was imminent.
“All the indications were pointing towards a pitch switch,” Gavin said afterwards.
“Five hours’ notice – not only for Dublin supporters but also for Roscommon supporters who might have made arrangements around the game and what they were going to do in Roscommon town. And for the people of Roscommon as well, not to see their own side playing in Hyde Park is a disappointment.
“And we were looking forward to playing there; it is a fantastic provincial ground. But the weather forecast had rain for Sunday morning and all through Saturday evening, and as early as seven o’clock this morning it was raining heavily in Roscommon. So we had a pretty good indication that it was going to be switched.
“It’s really a question for Roscommon County Board and for Croke Park. But again, I’m so grateful to our fantastic support in Dublin who follow our Gaelic games. A big crowd last night in Parnell Park watching the hurlers. A big crowd in watching the [under-21] footballers, and a big crowd here today from Dublin.
“But I think we all had an inkling that it was going to be switched to Carrick-on-Shannon, and I think the lesson to be learned from this is to make those calls early. Even at nine o’clock [on Saturday] night people could have made arrangements and the forecast – for those who looked at it – was rain forecast for Sunday morning. So I think the forecast was pointing towards a pitch switch.”
Dublin’s perfect seven-from-seven stands in stark contrast to that of their opposition next weekend, Donegal.
The Ulster men stumble into the semi-finals despite losing four-on-the-trot. Afterwards, Rory Gallagher reiterated the fact his team are in the early stages of conditioning work.
The boos rang around Croke Park when Donegal fell back into a deep defensive pattern: it will be a surprise if they depart from that next weekend.
“Donegal can play it a number of ways,” Gavin said diplomatically. “We have seen from the tapes they can do that. They can put up big scores. The game from two weeks ago has no relevance. It’s a new game, there will be new players on the pitch from both sides – I’m sure – so we will go after a performance and see where that takes us.”