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Sunday 4 December 2016

Gavin's gamble on pair of Jacks

Blues boss faces biggest call with his replay hand - to stick or twist on Brogan and Flynn

Dublin manager Jim Gavin is facing some tough calls for Saturday. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin is facing some tough calls for Saturday. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan (right) and Paul Flynn celebrate after last year’s win over Kerry in the All-Ireland Final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Oh, to be a manager in the week of an All-Ireland replay. Jim Gavin has big calls to make. Huge calls. The type he has rarely encountered during his trophy-laden tenure.

Virtually all of the Sky Blue selection debate has focussed on Gavin's suddenly becalmed forward line. Most of that discussion has centred on two marquee players - Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn.

As Saturday's 5pm throw-in edges closer, it seems a majority of 'Mystic Peigs' are leaning towards a belief that the Dublin boss will retain both.

In which case, so the speculation goes, the most likely personnel change would entail a return to his 'super-sub' roots for Kevin McManamon with Paddy Andrews promoted to try and reprise last year's replay heroics against Mayo.

Do any of us outside the inner circle know for sure? No. Will the Dublin team, if and when it's announced, tell all? Probably not. So we'll wait and wonder until Saturday comes.

Ever-presents

In the meantime, though, it's worth analysing why two virtual ever-presents under Gavin are now at risk.

Whereas McManamon's summer form had been stellar up until the deadlocked final, Brogan and Flynn have both struggled to replicate the gold standard consistently achieved during the first three years of the current regime.

Brogan has endured form issues in the past (a mid-summer trough in 2013, an injury-disrupted campaign the next season) but his 2016 travails have been far starker.

The stats don't lie. In Gavin's first campaign, he tallied 3-19 (3-9 from play) in six SFC outings. This fell to 2-17 (and just 2-5 from play) in 2014, albeit over less than three-and-a-half games. Last season was redolent of Brogan in his 2010 pomp: he shot 6-21 in the seven-match run to Sam, all bar 0-1 from play.

The contrast to this summer couldn't be greater: 1-9 in six appearances. He has finished just one of those games, three times being hauled ashore on or before the three-quarter mark.

Most damning of all, for a predator invariably judged on the currency of goals and points, Brogan has failed to trouble the scoreboard three times, most recently in the drawn All-Ireland.

The issue with Flynn is more nuanced: his worth to the team has never been measured purely in green or white flags, but more so in hard yards, kickouts won, breaks devoured, turnovers forced.

The quintessential modern-day wing-forward, he has been undroppable. Until now.

It's a moot point whether Flynn's influence has dimmed because of high mileage, rumours of an old injury flaring up recently, or a more defensive role in this year's set-up.

What cannot be argued is that his scoring returns have dried to a trickle - from 1-7 in 2013, 1-12 in '14 and 2-6 last year to a meagre 0-3 in his five SFC outings thus far in '16.

That wouldn't be such an issue if Stephen Cluxton was still pinging those sublime kickouts to the wing, a soaring Flynn arriving in symmetry with the ball. But Dublin's approach has changed; maybe their game of patience is negatively impacting not just on Brogan but Flynn, who has been a peripheral figure during this All-Ireland series.

Therein lies the conundrum for Gavin: does he trust this duo of four-time All Stars because they have repaid his faith so often before?

Or does he go by the recent evidence of a performance dip for both Brogan, 32, and Flynn, 30? It's more complicated than that. McManamon has an incredible track record in big games off the bench, so what you could term the 'easier' selection call would be to drop him instead.

Harsh

On form alone, this would be extremely harsh on a player being touted for Footballer of the Year before September 18. The flip side is that Kevin Mac might generate more momentum off the bench than, say, a dropped Brogan or Flynn.

And then there's the internal dressing-room dynamic: how would the group react to either of the latter being jettisoned in such a massive game for the first time? Would it help or hinder the mindset needed to finally kill off Mayo?

There is one final option: do nothing at all. Or, to be more specific, select the same starting six forwards on the unambiguous proviso that they must shape up early or ship out. Any barren repeat and the manager will turn to his back-up artillery - Andrews, Paul Mannion, Eoghan O'Gara et al - a lot earlier than the recent norm.

Oh, to be a manager.

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