herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Dubs facing of mettle in big test McHale!

With just seven of the side fifteen for Mayo clash this that brought Sam back to capital in starting evening, Gilroy's team could be vulnerable

TWO years ago, when Dublin last visited Castlebar, they were flying fit physically but still craving the mental fortitude that comes with being champions. They also started with a couple of marquee forwards on the bench.

Tonight, at the same McHale Park venue, they are unlikely to boast a discernible fitness edge but they should travel with a certain confidence, as befits newly crowned All-Ireland holders. They also start with several blue-chip forwards among the subs -- or more precisely three current All Stars in Alan Brogan, brother Bernard, and Paul Flynn.

Two years ago, they prevailed by the slimmest of margins -- 1-9 to 1-8 -- and it was mostly thanks to the game-changing contribution of the aforementioned subs. Bernard Brogan applied the finishing touch to the visitors' 53rd-minute goal, brilliantly teed up by Conal Keaney.

Keaney was on the pitch for barely 20 minutes and yet ended up as the Herald's Man of the Match -- an obvious commentary on his own pivotal contribution but also, it must be said, on the scratchy nature of the contest.

Dublin shot three wides compared to Mayo's mammoth 18 and, afterwards, sounding almost half-apologetic, Pat Gilroy admitted: "We're blessed to get out of it."

Judging from his latest public comments, at Dublin's now-traditional Friday press conference at DCU, Gilroy would ideally settle for a similar result but he's more interested in what Dublin learn from the experience.

Clearly, he was left frustrated by Dublin's middle-third disintegration during the second half of last weekend's NFL opener against Kerry.

The key, though, is that his players appreciate where and why they went wrong.

"Straight after half-time was nothing to do with tired bodies -- Kerry just got on top of us, and they did several things that punished us around that (midfield) area in particular. We didn't do anything to change it, so we've had a good chat about how we can do that in the future," Gilroy says.

"I think we lost nine out of 10 kickouts in a row from our own end -- you're not going to win the game, you're just on the back foot the whole time, and eventually it told with the goal going in last week."

Mind you, Mayo also struggled in midfield for long stretches of their Division One opener against Laois. The only difference is that they ended up winning, not losing, by six.

Already, it's a near-certain bet that Dublin will lose more league games this year than last, when their only spring reversal came in a top-flight final where they surrendered an eight-point lead to Cork. That's understandable for a team coming back from a winter of post All-Ireland reverie, but their manager isn't remotely bothered if the critics start talking about a team that partied too hard.

"I don't really mind what people say, to be honest; it's what we do in our own group and I'd be very happy with what we've done since the first of January," he says.

"Guys have really knuckled down, and physically we're in reasonable shape."

The difference, he perceives, is that others have trained just as hard in January so that "advantages we had fitness-wise" in February of 2010 and 2011 are no longer there.

Mayo, you suspect, will be just such a team to push Dublin to the limits of their endurance. James Horan inherited a set-up that had faltered badly during the second coming of John O'Mahony, and there was tangible progress last summer.

Rewards came in the guise of a Connacht title and Cork scalp, even if their semi-final fadeout against Kerry emphasised the journey still to be travelled.

But they've started 2012 in reasonably fine fettle, both in the FBD League and on their opening league venture to Portlaoise. Conor Mortimer proved again that he's the wrong man you want in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but he has generally impressed on his return.

Dublin start with just seven of their All-Ireland 15. Resources in defence have been stretched by injuries (to Mick Fitzsimons, Cian O'Sullivan and Declan Lally), with Kevin Nolan not deemed ready to start just yet. They have arguably less options in midfield, with Denis Bastick now joined on the sidelines by the suspended Eamon Fennell. And up front, you suspect, unless Diarmuid Connolly hits one of his red-hot nights, they might struggle to run up a match-winning tally.

Then again, they have a couple of super-subs waiting in the wings.

ODDS: Mayo evens, Draw 7/1, Dublin 11/10

VERDICT: Mayo

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