And while an early scare from Down in Páirc Esler on Saturday night was not as stern a challenge as that posed by Cork and Monaghan in recent weeks, the Dublin manager is satisfied with how they’ve responded to little speed bumps on route to five league wins out of five.
“It’s been a little bit bumpy but we’ve had good performances within games and when we get that, results tend to follow. We’re not doing too much but the players are applying themselves to each task and you can see the fruits of it.”
It will be five or six months before we know the full extent of the damage caused by the loss of Jack McCaffrey and Rory O’Carroll. In the meantime Gavin is assessing his options and played Jonny Cooper and Philly McMahon in the half-back line against Down with Michael Fitzsimons at fullback.
He will continue to select on form, not reputation.
“Nobody has a nailed down spot. If a player isn’t in form, we’re not going to play him— it doesn’t matter who that player might be. We have a set plan but we need some flexibility in that as players come in and out of injuries and in and out of form.
“It’s about giving players time on the pitch now, because this is as close to championship as we’re going to get.”
If ever an eight-point defeat could be described as a moral victory, then this was it for Down. With relegation already beckoning after losing all their games by an average of 11 points, they restored some pride. Despite only playing with one player inside the Dublin ‘45’, they managed to give the visitors an early scare, though it was a self-inflicted blow. Stephen Cluxton made a rare goalkeeping blunder in the fifth minute, spilling a high ball into his own net.
“That’s life, we all make mistakes,” insisted Gavin. “I thought he played very well. His kickouts were excellent and we showed good composure after that setback.”
Dublin recovered with 1-7 in a 16-minute spell and led 1-8 to 1-3 at the break.
Cormac Costello hit 1-3 of that tally, his goal coming in the 18th minute from a rebound after Kevin McManamon’s shot was blocked.Afterr being on the fringes of things last year, he looks close to establishing himself in the Dublin full-forward line. Dublin coped well with Down’s packed defence and although 11 wides was not ideal, Dean Rock, Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Flynn and Kevin McManamon all showed up well, even if Diarmuid Connolly was unusually subdued.
Despite failing to score for 27 minutes in the first half, Down later had a mini revival closing the deficit to four points and also hit the woodwork twice late on.
Manager Eamonn Burns was heartened by their best display of the season, even if it all but confirmed their relegation. “We’re happy with the progress we’ve made. Yes, we would have liked to have stayed in Division One, but you have to win enough games to stay there and we’ve found that hard to do this year.”
M Cunningham, G Collins, G McGovern, D O’Hagan, J Flynn, A Carr, D O’Hanlon (0-1), P Turley, M McKay (0-1), C Maginn, R Mallon, K McKernan, C McGovern, D O’Hare (1-2, 0-2f), B O’Hagan.
J Murphy (0-2) for McKernan (6, BC), P Devlin (0-1) for Mallon (47), L Howard for Carr (51), C Harrison for O’Hagan (51), H Brown for McKay (57).
S Cluxton, D Byrne, M Fitzsimons, J Small, J McCarthy, P McMahon, J Cooper (0-1), B Fenton, S Carthy, P Flynn (0-2), D Connolly, C Kilkenny (0-2), C Costello (1-4, 0-4f), K McManamon (0-2), D Rock (0-3, 1 ’45, 1f).
S B Carthy for Flynn (43, BC), P Andrews (0-1) for McManamon (46), E Lowndes for S Carthy (46), D Bastick for Fenton, T Brady for Costello (56), D Daly for Cooper (66).
D O’Mahony (Tipperary).