Jim Gavin admits he may have got team wrong for Kerry
Dublin manager’s selection for Allianz League final appeared formidable at first glance
Jim Gavin: Dublin manager felt his side made too many errors against Kerry. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
As his first confession in the losing box of a national league final, or indeed any final, Jim Gavin’s gentle admission of guilt in his team selection was telling. If not surprising.
Gavin’s team announcement prior to Sunday’s showdown with Kerry was widely perceived as both dependable and formidable: Cian O’Sullivan, Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan all restored to the starting 15, having come off the bench against Monaghan the previous Sunday.
By the end of the one-point defeat – and Dublin’s first league and championship defeat in 36 games and over 25 months – only Brogan was still on the field; Connolly was a victim of his own indiscipline, black-carded on 30 minutes for the second game in succession, while O’Sullivan was replaced on 49 minutes, visibly creaking under the pressure of Kerry’s Paul and Michael Geaney.
Indeed Brogan did well to last until the end, scrounging around for his usual clean supply, still scoreless as the game reached its helter-skelter climax. Conor McHugh, Dublin’s second highest scorer with 1-9 going into Sunday’s game, didn’t see any action; Niall Scully, who had scored 1-5, and started all seven regular league games, was only called in to replace Connolly.
Gavin’s suggestion of a team not entirely in tune with the game is not necessarily a bad thing, as better to learn that now than later; more surprising was the removal of Gavin’s usual protective layer against any undue praise or criticism.
“No, you couldn’t fault the preparations,” said Gavin. “Team selection? Absolutely, that’s my responsibility, and we’d have to have a look at that. Did we start the right players and bring the right players in?”
The likes of Cormac Costello, Jack McCaffrey, Jonny Cooper – none of whom were part of the match day panel – will inevitably come into Dublin’s summer’s team selection. Gavin has eight weeks before Dublin’s championship opener against either Carlow or Wexford, on Saturday June 3rd, and by then, Dublin’s starting 15 might look at least a little different.
“Jonny Cooper, who rolled his ankle, is slowly coming back,” said Gavin. “John Small will be back. So they all will be back. It is the national league. It’s the third competition. The next one is the provincial championship, then the All-Ireland series.
“We’ve got a lot from the league. We were the last team to come back, in late January. To find ourselves in a national league final was a bonus. Of course we wanted to perform, and win. It just didn’t happen. We have to reflect on those reasons, and ultimately that’s my responsibility.
“We’ve eight weeks to go now until our provincial championship. That means a lot to us. Hopefully we’ll have those players back, but who knows, we might lose a few more in the club championship.
“Ciarán Reddin, who I saw a few times in the O’Byrne Cup, and based on that we brought him in. Same with Niall Scully, and Conor McHugh. That’s what it’s about, bringing these players on. And we’ve a few more under-21 players to come in, and we’ll be looking at them as well. So we would hopefully come back stronger.”
Con O’Callaghan is the obvious pick from that Dublin under-21 team, out this weekend in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Yet there are other concerns: Connolly’s continuing lapses into indiscipline means he’s already picked up his second black card this season, and a third would mean a one-match ban. Sunday’s off-the-ball body check on Kerry substitute Gavin Crowley was as needless as it was unforgivable, and no one will have sense that more than the Dublin manager.
“I thought the boys who finished the game had great heart and desire, and again I couldn’t question their resilience again, just a little bit too late,” added Gavin. “We’d just too many unforced errors. Kicked it away, hand-passed it away – very uncharacteristic. We’d certainly had enough of it. The third quarter of the game, we kicked an awful lot of the ball away.”