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Saturday 24 August 2019

Boss Jim faces five crucial questions as drive in search of five begins

Fans seek Blue pointers but zero chance of a Wee shock

What will Cormac Costello’s role be for Dublin this year
What will Cormac Costello’s role be for Dublin this year

First things first: Dublin don't lose Leinster senior football quarter-finals. Not since 2004, at any rate. So, if you want to make a long story short, skip to the inevitable verdict below.

Second things second: Dublin don't suddenly morph into quivering lost kids abroad once they cross beyond the M50. Playing in Portlaoise won't bother them remotely; they might even recognise O'Moore Park from their last two opening summer forays.

Onto the third thing: Dublin won't conspire to lose the Delaney Cup between now and June 23. Their reduction of Leinster to non-event status is summed up by last year's cumulative margin: 60 points to spare over Wicklow, Longford and Laois.

On that form, they are no longer content with the infliction of mere double-digit trauma. Does anyone believe that even a suddenly resurgent Kildare or Meath will turn that lopsided narrative on its head this year?

Armchair

So, there you have the reasons not to bother with Portlaoise ... and based on Leinster Council predictions that only 16,000 will attend today's double-header, it seems that quite a few Sky Blue summer regulars are making that very decision. Even minus the 'live' armchair alternative.

And yet, for all that, there are reasons to be fascinated about what unfolds here.

This year is different for very obvious reasons. The Drive for Five is a phrase you will never, ever, hear uttered by Jim Gavin himself; but while he may shield his players from the white noise outside the tent, he cannot control the volume.

Thus, every Dublin move, false or foot-perfect, will be micro-analysed this summer. Will they amble out of the blocks tonight or be in a mood for plunder, if only to remind us all that they haven't gone away?

The next point of intrigue centres on the make-up of Gavin's first '15'. A team isn't due to be unveiled until noon today; and even that might only qualify as a pre-match discussion point.

5 key issues of conjecture

Will Gavin parachute Rory O'Carroll straight back in at full-back? It's not his style but, on the flip side, surely he needs to find out relatively quickly how O'Carroll is readjusting to the pace of inter-county football?

Will Darren Gavin be this year's league rookie given his shot at summer stardom? The rangy Lucan midfielder started four league games and came off the bench in two more, suggesting he's certainly in the frame to partner Brian Fenton.

Will Cormac Costello - so effective against Galway in February, a goalscorer against Mayo and Tyrone - finally get his chance to start a championship as one of the favoured front six? Or will the manager, sensing that his bench may lack some of its old super-sub stardust, hold Costello back as his go-to impact man?

What of the defensive regulars whose spring game-time was compromised for different reasons, mostly injury? Philly McMahon (especially), Eoin Murchan, John Small and Jack McCaffrey all missed chunks. The you have the near-perennial question over Cian O'Sullivan's hamstrings.

Even Stephen Cluxton - goalkeeper, on-field conductor and leader - only started two of their seven league games. The prelude to a passing of the baton to Evan Comerford? Not yet; Cluxton remains utterly pivotal to this Holy Grail quest.

Overall, the league suggested that Dublin were some distance off their usual spring standard, both collectively and individually; and the three most likely pretenders - Mayo, Kerry and Tyrone - are potentially edging closer.

But Dublin deserve to be judged on what they almost invariably produce in championship; they have earned that right. Only in July and beyond will be learn, for sure, if they've started to regress or have timed it all to perfection.

In the meantime, expect plenty of provincial clues.

As for Louth, their Division 3 form graph (going close to promotion) and first-round win over Wexford (shooting the last eight points to win by five) indicate an upward curve under Wayne Kierans.

But they can't dare to dream here; merely strive to stay close for as long as possible. Under Gavin, Dublin have won their six previous SFC openers by exactly 100 points - nearly 17 points on average. The handicap tomorrow is 18 points. For Louth, staying below that will be a victory of sorts.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dub 1/500 Draw 50/1 Louth 33/1 VERDICT: Dublin

LEINSTER SFC Q-FINAL

DUBLIN v LOUTH

Portlaoise (Tonight, 7.0)

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