Dubs boss Gavin may return big guns for Kerry shoot-out
Cluxton, Brogan and Macauley could make their 2015 spring bows
JIM GAVIN has the option of beefing up his starting 15 in Killarney on Sunday for Dublin's meeting with All-Ireland champions, Kerry as a raft of his most experienced players return to fitness.
Captain Stephen Cluxton and former Footballers of the Year, Bernard Brogan (2010) and Michael Darragh Macauley (2013) could all make their first starts of this year's League campaign.
Paul Flynn, James McCarthy and Cian O'Sullivan are also nearing returns.
Cluxton's absence from the squad for all of their successful O'Byrne Cup campaign and both of Dublin's opening League matches against Cork and Donegal was attributed by Gavin to "a little niggling injury" but the Dubs manager also revealed in the aftermath of the latter that Cluxton was "back in training".
Seán Currie wore the number one jersey in his stead, whilst last year's under-21 'keeper, Lorcan Molloy, was used as backup.
Macauley, meanwhile, hasn't played for Dublin since being sent off in the O'Byrne Cup final in Newbridge, though Gavin explained he too had suffered a minor injury playing with Ballyboden St Enda's.
The influential midfielder, who was also red-carded in Dublin's most recent visit to Killarney in 2013 for an altercation with Kieran Donaghy, missed 'Boden's Dublin SFC campaign after suffering a fractured thumb, undergoing an operation wherein a wire was inserted to the digit in order to aid full recovery.
His latest setback is not thought to be related.
Brogan, meanwhile, was a late substitute for Cormac Costello in the Donegal game and Gavin may now use the clash with the Kingdom to grant the St Oliver Plunkett's/ER clubman more significant involvement.
Flynn, McCarthy and O'Sullivan have all been involved in squad training following groin/hip operations, though Gavin will avoid risking exposing any to frontline action too soon after recovery unless fully fit.
Flynn underwent an operation on January 5 on a Gilmore's Groin injury which first flared up before last year's All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Monaghan. Speaking last month, the four-time All Star set "mid-March" as an approximate return date, though he admitted "it'd be nice to get back for the first game after the break," ie Sunday's clash against Kerry.
McCarthy's problem - whilst similar - was more severe and the procedure, more complicated due to damage to his abductor muscles.
But as he went under the knife four weeks previous to Flynn's surgery, the Ballymun Kickhams wing-back had expected to be available to play around the same time.
O'Sullivan, meanwhile, had his operation in October after admitting to be "struggling to walk down the stairs," the day after Dublin's All-Ireland exit to Donegal.
Like his teammates, O'Sullivan's surgery was groin-hip related, described as "a labral tear," an ailment which may have been a factor in his history of hamstring niggles.
Having spent four weeks on crutches, O'Sullivan was back in the gym at the start of December and identified mid-February as his own comeback date.
It is not expected, however, that any St Vincent's players will be in involved this Sunday.
The Marino club's exit from the AIB All-Ireland club semi-finals to Corofin last Sunday week grants Gavin extra scope to run the rule over some of their players, though neither Diarmuid Connolly nor Ger Brennan are likely to be forced straight back into inter-county action in Fitzgerald Stadium, a ground in which Dublin have won on both of their two most recent visits.
Brennan had been nursing an injury through Vincent's run which prevented him from taking a full part in training and he is likely now to be given an extended rest in order to fix an on-going ankle problem.
Likewise, Connolly hasn't experienced a significant break from competitive football in almost two years and may be granted an extended leave of absence.
As yet, Gavin hasn't disclosed the intentions of Alan Brogan, although it is expected that he will return to the squad towards the back end of the League.
Gavin's selection may be complicated further by the involvement of several of his panel in the quarter-final of the Leinster U21 championship next Wednesday.
Dessie Farrell's team begin the defence of their Leinster and All-Ireland titles against the winner of tonight's meeting of Wexford and Laois and can call on a cluster of players currently cohabiting his and Gavin's respective squads.
Cormac Costello, David Byrne (Naomh Olaf), Eric Lowndes, Shane Carthy, Conor McHugh and Michael Deegan, all of whom saw League game time between Dublin's opening day defeat to Cork and the victory over Donegal, are eligible for this year's U21 team, a factor likely to influence Gavin's team selection for Sunday and on Saturday week, when Mickey Harte's Tyrone come to Croke Park.