Friday 21 October 2016

Dubs to unleash WMDs on road trip

Gavin's team selection for opener in Dublin's title defence reveals fully-focused mindset

Kevin McManamon gets a rare starting role tonight. Photo: Sportsfile
Kevin McManamon gets a rare starting role tonight. Photo: Sportsfile

Assuming Jim Gavin's named selection isn't a fool's errand and the 15 players listed to start in today's match programme take the pitch, his choices may well be revealing of his team's frame of mind.

A year ago, priced at similarly unbackable odds to beat Longford in the Leinster quarter-final, Gavin handed out three Championship debuts.

Brian Fenton, John Small and David Byrne all got their summer wings that day and if Fenton was, ultimately, the only one of the trio to hold on to his spot in the team until September, Gavin is seeing the benefits of his foresight now.

He wouldn't have known then that Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll would be unavailable to him a year on, as this Dublin team set out on the path towards achieving the only thing left to do - retaining Sam Maguire.

But between last summer and this winter/spring, Byrne and Small have plenty of big-match experience in their legs and brains, so even without the reigning Footballer of the Year and the man who comprehensively solved Dublin's full-back need, the team doesn't look particularly weakened.


Even if further down the line, teams like Kerry, Mayo and Donegal are better equipped to test out Dublin's O'Carroll-less approach to full-back.

That Gavin has opted for what, in the injury-caused absence of Paddy Andrews, looks his strongest available XV shows the genuine seriousness with which he treats all Championship opposition.

Dublin haven't looked like slipping pre-August in his tenure (no team has come within seven points and 16 is their average winning margin in those three years) and Gavin's attitude, projected on to his players, is mostly responsible.

Laois now pose a much more of a threat than Longford a year ago.

Nowlan Park doesn't hold the same comforts and familiarity of Croke Park.

Ergo, Gavin has put out a crack team this evening on a day when the rest of the footballing world finally gets their wish - a Dublin match not in Croke Park.

That there are 13 of the side that started the League final is no surprise.

Indeed, the two changes to that selection come with no element of the unknown either.

After a frustrating season in which he lost his spot in Gavin's starting XV, Michael Darragh Macauley gets the chance to prove that his very explosive star is not on the wane at this level.

In theory, his partnership with Brian Fenton should be a balanced one.


Kevin McManamon, a player for whom being named on the bench has long since become a novelty, gets in at the expense of Paul Mannion and his League displays have fully justified his selection.

McManamon will know, better than anyone now, that it's easier to hold onto your place in this Dublin attack than it is to break into it.

For their part, Laois have brought Colm Begley and Conor Meredith back into the side that made life far too difficult for themselves against Wicklow in O'Moore Park.

If they correctly harbour a sense of injustice over the venue, it may in theory serve to elevate the team's performance above that game - or anything that they showed in Mick Lillis's first League campaign as manager.

That won't, however, make much difference to anything other than Dublin's winning margin here.

If the Dubs score score an early goal, it could get ugly.

ODDS: Laois 20/1, Draw 25/1, Dublin 1/66


leinster sfc: dublin v laois (Live Sky Sports 3 tonight 7.0)

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