They have played just 140 minutes of competitive football and with mostly greenhorn players but already Dublin have made some progress in 2015.

Provincial chiefs have confirmed that Wednesday evening’s win over Offaly has secured Dublin qualification for the semi-finals of the O’Byrne Cup with a game to spare.

Jim Gavin’s side failed to make it out of their group last year though regardless of what happens against Laois on Sunday they will play the Group C winners in the semi-finals.

Old rivals Meath are presently in pole position at the head of Group C meaning a rematch of the last three Leinster finals is on the cards on January 18.

On the third weekend in January, Dublin won’t be anything close to full strength and they are likely to experiment heavily again this Sunday with little to play for against Laois.

Gavin has spared his established players so far with Michael Fitzsimons and Eoghan O’Gara the only players starting against Offaly who lined out against Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final.

It’s been a productive exercise with a rookie side battling back impressively against Offaly in the third quarter of Wednesday’s game to win by four points.

Manager Gavin insisted that despite securing qualification with that win, Sunday’s game in Portarlington will be treated as another vital opportunity to experiment.

“All managers look at these games in isolation and whether you are in a position to qualify or have already qualified for the latter stages, it doesn’t really matter,” said Gavin. “You are really trying to have a look at your extended squad and to give players an opportunity.

“I’m sure the Laois guys, as much as the Dublin players, will want to put their best foot forward too. So we’d expect a tough game going down to Portarlington and we’re really looking forward to it.

“We have one or two players to come back. But we’ll probably review it again on Saturday morning. That’s our next session as the guys have a couple of days off so we’ll see how things are going.”

Darren Daly, Dean Rock and Nicky Devereux also featured against Offaly having come on as subs in last August’s Croke Park defeat to Donegal.

Gavin has generally looked to fringe talent, however, with Eoin Culligan and John Small forming the defensive spine in their two O’Byrne Cup games so far. Castleknock’s Graham Hannigan, Emmet Ó Conghaile and Donabate’s Niall Collins have started both matches too.

The more established Dean Rock has emerged as Dublin’s top scorer with 0-14 overall.

“Some players are really putting their hands up and showing they really want to be a part of the Dublin senior football team for the year ahead,” said Gavin. “That is a great thing to have at this time of the season.

“First and foremost, we’re looking for character from these guys. We know they all have a good skill set and are tactically aware because they wouldn’t have got so far with their clubs and with the county if they didn’t. So we just want to see good application and good attitude and if you get that it’s a big step forward.”

It remains to be seen if Dublin’s style of play is as attacking in 2015 as it has been under for the past two seasons under Gavin.

The manner of the defeat to Donegal prompted various commentators to suggest they may need to be more defensively minded.

Against Maynooth University in round one of the O’Byrne Cup, they got plenty of men back when necessary while continual hand passing was a feature of their win over Offaly.

“That was just a tactical ploy with the conditions,” said Gavin. “We had two heavy falls of rain before the game and a couple during the game itself so it just made sense to retain possession. Certainly in our training, the core basis is catching and kicking. We base our game around a kicking game so we won’t stray too far away from that when the ground hardens up.”(IrishTimes)


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