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dublin to hold fort

THEY say it's a sign of a good team when they can play badly and win but in the context of Dublin's victory in Monaghan a week ago, perhaps it's more an indication of a team with luck on their side.

Clones last week was undoubtedly Dublin's worst performance of the four league matches thus far but, it's worth noting, they were exactly the games they have lost in the past and this new-found virtue of hacking out results isn't all that easily acquired.

Suitably, there is a vacuum of giddiness in the Dublin camp, despite their current lofty perch.

Part of the reason for that is 'Groundhog Day' syndrome given that this was precisely the stage at which Dublin slipped in their league final bid a year ago.

They were then, identical to now, four wins from four starts from their opening quartet of Division 1 matches and then contrived to lose the next two before reserving their best display for last against Tyrone in Omagh.

This year is different, though. The pair of defeats Gilroy's men suffered were away in Cork (no shame in that) and also on the road in Galway.

Tomorrow, Dublin face a Mayo team still rebuilding from the depressing rubble of last summer in Croke Park and then travel again to Galway, albeit one which resembles less than a pale shadow of the equally less-than-brilliant outfit of 2010.

Mostly though, the resting on laurels or anything else for that matter is down to the level of internal rivalry which Pat Gilroy has generated in his squad.

It has become one of the most boring clichés of all for players to reference the 'competition for places' in whichever squad they happen to be a member of, but in Dublin at present the statement rings true.

That just three of last year's All-Ireland semi-final starters are listed on the Dublin teamsheet for tomorrow says as much about the level of injury and unavailability in the camp as anything else, but that they remain unbeaten speaks volumes for the collective quality which exists inside the panel.

Take, for example, Declan Lally and Paul Casey, Dublin's wing-backs in each of the four games up until now.

The former was not even part of the squad for the last two years while Casey's status shrank dramatically from ever-present under Paul Caffrey to bit-part player in the current regime.

Both look reinvigorated at present, though, the upshot being that whenever Paul Griffin, Kevin Nolan, Cian O'Sullivan et al regain full fitness, they will have to show serious form to dislodge the incumbents.

At the other end of the spectrum, both Alan Brogan and Bryan Cullen could -- were they so inclined -- look back on 2010 as a positive season in terms of personal performances while their cameos this year from the bench have been mostly productive.

Neither, though, has in the eyes of the manager, justified starting selection yet, though Gilroy name-checked both yesterday as being on the cusp of it. There is, however, a first league start for Paul Brogan -- the man with more false starts to inter-county life than anyone, while Darragh Nelson -- impressive a week ago in Clones from the bench -- starts ahead of the stricken Lally.



DRASTIC

Mayo, meanwhile, have made drastic changes -- seven in total -- from the team that was beaten by Armagh.

Keith Higgins returns to a defence which also includes Richie Feeney while Ronan McGarrity and James Kilcullen form a new midfield partnership.

Alan Freeman returns from a hand injury and slots into attack as does Aidan O'Shea, who was rested last weekend due to his involvement with the under-21s alongside goalkeeper, Rob Hennelly, who also starts against Dublin.

On paper, it represents Mayo's strongest selection of the league so far and tied in with the Westerners' chronic hunger for league points is the equally burdening need to perform in Croke Park.

Dublin are getting comfortable in their 'new' home (however long it lasts), though, and have a penchant for scoring goals there.

Both Tomás Quinn and Kevin McManamon are in fine goal-scoring form and if Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly can repeat the form that they have shown flashes of in the past few weeks, Dublin should just have too much in their attack.

ODDS: Dublin 4/11, Draw 15/2, Mayo 11/4

VERDICT: Dublin