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Sunday 4 December 2016

Dubs have to make big bench decisions for showdown with Kerry

To start Kevin Mac or spring him is one of several huge Dub calls

Dublin footballer Michael Darragh MacAuley signs autographs for supporters during the Dublin Senior Football Open Night. Parnell Park, Dublin
Dublin footballer Michael Darragh MacAuley signs autographs for supporters during the Dublin Senior Football Open Night. Parnell Park, Dublin

The start of All-Ireland week: when management teams earn their corn. The physical work has all been done but players must be in the right mental place too - and fully au fait with the game-plan.

Then there are those vital calls to be made over the fitness/form of certain players.

For Dublin, given the stellar impact of several subs in the semi-final replay against Mayo, contrasting with the contribution of some starters, this is no easy team to pick against Kerry next Sunday.

In their different ways, Michael Darragh Macauley, Mick Fitzsimons, Kevin McManamon and Alan Brogan all contributed positively to Dublin's fourth quarter victory surge.

CRITICAL

Ultimately the buck stops with Jim Gavin, but his selectors must be on their game too. Do they hold back some big names for the critical last quarter? "They're all difficult to pick - 26 is tough to pick," insists Declan Darcy, while quick to stress that Kerry's Éamonn Fitzmaurice has the same dilemma, possessing some "wonderful players" who must be told they aren't starting.

"The way the game has evolved, it's a bit like the rugby as well - the subs coming in are a huge part of it, and they can be equally important."

All of which leads, neatly, to Dublin's most famous of all super-subs. Kevin McManamon has broken Kerry hearts not once but twice: his goals were the catalyst for victory in the 2011 All-Ireland final and the 2013 semi-final. Nor has he lost his Midas touch off the bench: 'Mac the Knife' delivered 1-1 incisions in each of the Mayo showdowns.

"That hateful type of player," surmises Darcy, the adjective meant as a compliment. "If I was playing myself I wouldn't like to see him coming in on me. He has that low centre (of gravity), pace and an eye for goal. And he's driven.

"Obviously, if you were running around after some of the Dublin forwards and then you look at him for the last 20 minutes, you'd go 'Jesus'. Croke Park is not the place to be seeing Kevin McManamon coming to you ... at the same time, I think Kevin could equally do as much damage in the first 15 minutes of the game as the last 15 minutes."

VICTIM

The Dublin selector agrees that, in some ways, McManamon is a victim of his own success. But he adds: "Some of his moments will be iconic moments. As a footballer, he'll be well remembered. His impact has been phenomenal … he is still a huge part of the team and whether he starts or finishes, he is going to be a handful for anybody."

Darcy accepts it can be "hard for players" to get their heads around the concept of having a crucial role to play when not actually starting.

"Certainly in 2013, the impact of our subs off the bench was a huge part of the game. This year, things have changed a little bit. Games are stifled a little bit, they aren't as free-flowing.

"In 2013, everyone was going toe-to-toe with us and the games were free-flowing, now they are stagnating a little bit with more phases of play and strategies, and it is more difficult to impact a game when it is tightly strung-up like that.

"But you got a sense of it the last day - the subs impacted. We got it right. We stuttered through other games to get that impact. But the last day, they were huge in the last 20 minutes."

As a fixture, Dublin/Kerry has contributed to the rich tapestry of impact subs. And we're not just talking of Kevin Mac … go back to 2001, and that celebrated All-Ireland quarter-final stalemate in Thurles when Darcy was playing.

Who kickstarted the Sky Blue comeback? Vinny Murphy with his goal. Who saved Kerry at the death? Maurice Fitzgerald with his outrageous sideline ball equaliser.

Darcy, who skippered Leitrim to an historic Connacht title before reverting to his native Dublin for the second half of his career, still cherishes the memory of that road trip to Thurles, even if Day Two ended in defeat.

"There's a nostalgic rivalry there that brings out the very best in everybody in both counties. Kerry really want to beat Dublin, always did; and Dublin always want to beat Kerry. It just has that edgy kind of feel to it," he says.

DIFFERENT

"It's nothing like any other game. I played against Meath in Leinster finals ... but this is different. It is different."

As for 2001, he recalls: "Maurice Fitzgerald's kick - they're moments that are created in games against teams that are competing hard against each other, like Dublin and Kerry. Moments that you'll remember - and rightly so, they're great occasions and they bring out the very best in players.

"So hopefully on Sunday it will bring out the very best in us anyway - hopefully not as much them!"

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