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What do Dublin hope to get out of the National Football League this season?

After defeat in Cork last Sunday, the Dubs welcome Rory Gallagher and Donegal to HQ this weekend.

Gavin and James McCarthy were in Parnell Park yesterday to announce Ballygowan and Energise Sport as the official hydration partners of Dublin GAA.
Gavin and James McCarthy were in Parnell Park yesterday to announce Ballygowan and Energise Sport as the official hydration partners of Dublin GAA.
Image: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

PERFORMANCES, NOT POINTS, are Jim Gavin’s focus as Dublin set off in search of a third National Football League title in as many seasons.

Defeat in Sunday’s league opener in Páirc Uí Rinn extended the Dubs’ joyless record in Rebel territory, a winless streak that stretches back to 1990.

Conor Dorman kicked a late point to seal a 1-15 to 0-16 win for Brian Cuthbert’s men, but this was a Dublin side virtually unrecognisable from last summer’s championship.

Only four of the team which started the defeat against Donegal were present, with the remainder either injured, given extended breaks, away on club duty with St Vincent’s or, in the case of Alan Brogan, still mulling over their inter-county future.

Gavin’s intent was clear as the game entered the final 25 minutes with the result still in the balance. Off the bench came Brian Fenton, Ciaran Reddin, Conor McHugh, Eric Lowndes and Michael Deegan, all relative newcomers at senior level.

The heavy artillery could wait for another day. With the Sigerson Cup and beginning of the U21 Football Championships fast approaching, Gavin was more concerned about getting game time for his younger, untested players while they were available to him.

Don’t mistake that experimentation for lack of interest in the bigger prize though.

John Small with John O'Rourke John Small was one of the unfamiliar faces to start against Cork. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I think if you look back to the squads we played last year [and] in 2013, we’re always spreading the net,” Gavin explained on Tuesday.

“We want to get performances and getting players onto the pitch to get through that process of getting performances on the field of play. If that happens, we’ll get results.

There were some very good performances on Sunday. We came away having learned a lot. And again, we’re giving players exposure in very competitive games, in situations and scenarios where they have to figure out when the game is in the balance and they have to try and work themselves towards getting the result.

Such is the competitive nature of Division 1, a couple of early losses can see teams nervously looking over their shoulder at relegation rather than at the prospect of a semi-final.

With Donegal under new management in Rory Gallagher, and with their tails up following victory over Derry last weekend, the Dubs could very easily find themselves still pointless come Saturday evening.

Jack McCaffrey with Eoin Cadogan Jack McCaffrey tangles with Eoin Cadogan. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Gavin is not worried, and even if a semi-final place slips through their grasp amidst all the chopping and changing, he has Plan B ready to go to ensure that their championship preparations are not interrupted.

“At this time of the season we’re looking for performances. That’s what we want. One would not be satisified if we get two points on the board and don’t perform particularly well. Longer term that won’t do us any good at all. That’s the main focus.

“There were some really good passages of play offensively on Sunday and defensively, Cork got two shots off in 70 minutes of football which is quite pleasing. The goal came from a mis-hit from Daniel Goulding that caught our backs unaware. I think defensively we were quite structured, midfield we did ok.

We played against a very defensive system, the most defensive I’ve ever seen Cork play, and it was pleasing that we created so many chances and put ourselves into a position to finish the game.

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“We made some adjustments going into the final quarter, giving players some game time, and it just didn’t work out for us.”

Cork’s emphasis on getting men behind the ball and then breaking at pace to counter-attack is a puzzle likely to present itself time and again this season, not least against Gallagher’s Donegal on Saturday evening.

Mark Collins with Shane Carthy Dublin's Shane Carthy and Cork's Mark Collins. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“We did [see it a lot] last year in the league and in the championship. Some games we figured it out and some we didn’t.

“There’s trends being set and coaches pick up on different trends that were being set and that’s just one of them.

“We’ll play teams that mightn’t be as defensive-minded and that’s just part of the challenges for both myself as a manager and the players as well.”

– First published 06.00

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