Royals will push Dublin all the way
LEINSTER'S big football day is upon us and its important you get to Croker early. The minor final between Dublin and Kildare will serve up a treat as two of the country's highest-rated underage teams do battle.
I've seen both teams in action and the standard is indeed serious so do yourself a favour, have an early breakfast and head for the noon throw-in.
The senior decider is the main event of course, and while the result looks a foregone conclusion to many, I'm not so sure. Dublin will have to play a lot of good football before this one is put to bed and I certainly don't see the game parcelled and ribboned within the usual 55 minutes the Dubs take for packaging.
Meath's seven-point win over Kildare in the provincial semi-final was easily as impressive a performance as Dublin's crushing of Wexford. Meath had a decent spread of scores and scorers (10 different ones in total) as they went about accumulating 2-16 . Hidden in those 18 scores is a problem both teams regularly encounter: lack of composure when goal chances present.
The main advantage Dublin has at present over the competing teams for Sam is the one conferred by their high bench contributions. The performance and scoring returns of Cormac Costello, Eoghan O'Gara, Dean Rock and Kevin McManamon (if he doesn't start) really underlines their panel power but pretty soon now Jim Gavin will have two or three of these guys as regular starters and the impact will be dissipated.
But the lift they currently enjoy from this source is likely to provide the drive for home when the game is there or thereabouts to be won. For Meath to keep the game in the balance there is one key area and two critical players they must aim to negate: the Dublin kick outs and the influence of Rory O'Carroll and Paul Flynn.
If Meath fail to strangle the Dublin restarts then the ball will rarely be contested by Brian Meade and Shane O'Rourke, their high fielding beanpoles, and immediately that potential advantage will evaporate.
O'Carroll is the heart and soul of the Dublin defence and Meath must target him. To my mind the direct opponent must match-up in terms of physique and power and if Dublin's No 3 can be sorted the defence gets very wobbly indeed. Have Meath the man to do this? Somebody like Bryan Menton - a quality footballer and versatile also, who could do the job?
But Paul Flynn is the key to just about everything good about Dublin. He sorts out so much small stuff around the middle, links defence and attack, contributes on the scoreboard and never stops inspiring his team. Who can manage him? Bryan Menton again? Or perhaps Graham Reilly who would have the pace and discipline to track him and match him?
I'm expecting Dublin to be at full strength (Ger Brennan aside) but the bulletin on Meath's Michael Newman, Kevin Reilly and Brian McMahon is not yet to hand. Assuming all three pass muster they will be selected and Meath will tog strong.
These are the tactics, selection posers and and decisions both managements will be considering, and many other minute details besides, as the clock ticks down. Dublin are likely to win but it's not a sure-thing.
But do yourself a favour - get there early, enjoy the day and the quality of football served up because having really enjoyed last week's Connacht double-header in Castlebar, it is true to say: nothing beats being there!