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Thursday 21 November 2019

Blue eyes on the prize to make Jim's first '15'

SUMMER START?: Cormac Costello will hope to start. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
SUMMER START?: Cormac Costello will hope to start. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

ON one level, Dublin v Louth is the ultimate dead cert not deserving of a second glance.

The All-Ireland holders are 1/100; surely nothing can go wrong, no matter who Jim Gavin puts on the field.

Yet it's hard to remember a greater level of fascination over the identity of those 15 players who will kickstart Dublin's quest for All-Ireland immortality in Portlaoise this Saturday.

Part of it is linked to the ubiquitous Drive for Five debate.

But that's not the only reason. Dublin's relatively poor Allianz League form (they lost three regulation games and failed to reach a final for the first time under Gavin) has intensified the focus on who will make the Leinster quarter-final cut.

Among the most intriguing questions that will only be answered shortly before the 7pm throw-in are the following:

(1) Will Rory O'Carroll be parachuted in for his first competitive game since the 2015 All-Ireland final?

(2) Will Darren Gavin be rewarded with his SFC debut?

(3) Will Cormac Costello start summer as one or the chosen front six - or must he settle for another 'super sub' season?

Truth is, second-guessing the Dublin boss is difficult at the best of times, and this is doubly so with O'Carroll in the absence of any league auditions.

There have been mixed messages about how well he has been motoring in training/challenge games since he rejoined the fold three weeks ago.

If he is to be utilised, even as a bench option to counteract teams seeking aerial gains, it would make sense to road-test O'Carroll early in Leinster. But has he done enough to justify a starting recall? And is there a full-back vacancy to begin with?

That may depend on Eoin Murchan's sharpness after his recovery from injury. More significantly, is Philly McMahon still considered first choice after a below-par 2018 and injury-hit spring confined to one late cameo in Cavan?

As for Gavin's chances of midfield inclusion, the fact he started four NFL games and came off the bench in two more suggests he's definitely in the frame to partner Brian Fenton.

But, again, it will depend on whether James McCarthy is more needed at half-back or in the engine-room. John Small's spring was stop-start because of injury and another suspension; if he starts, that could see McCarthy revert to centrefield.

Menace

In attack, based on his consistent league menace, Costello is surely worth a start. But that would mean either no place for one of last year's front six (Brian Howard, Ciarán Kilkenny, Niall Scully, Paul Mannion, Dean Rock and Con O'Callaghan) or perhaps Howard relocating to midfield or half-back.

Dublin's legendary bench no longer looks as potent as before. Could that ultimately count against their No 1 impact sub?

Speaking of No 1s, Stephen Cluxton had his least active spring ever (just two starts compared to five for Evan Comerford) but the presumption is that Dublin's skipper will be at the starting grid.

And, for now, there's still no sign of Diarmuid Connolly. The door may have been left ajar but hopes of a comeback seem to be fading.

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