Saturday 7 December 2019

Everything points to another Dublin cruise

Leinster SFC semi final: Dublin v Kildare (Croke Park, Tomorrow 4.0)

Paul Mannion
Paul Mannion

As if the challenge facing Kildare wasn't steep enough . . . the news that Paul Mannion has been cleared to play presents yet another All Star obstacle to their chances of a shock to beat all shocks.

That said, it's all relative: they've gone from climbing K2 to Everest.

The 'slow-mo' of Mannion's tackle on Louth's Conal McKeever fuelled Dublin hopes that the Central Hearings Committee would rescind his red card. So it has transpired.

In one respect, this creates as much of a headache for Jim Gavin as Cian O'Neill. Namely this: who, if anyone, does he drop from his forward line?


Dean Rock, Gavin's go-to freetaker since early 2015, wasn't fit for the 26-point rout of Louth. Cormac Costello assumed deadball duties with effortless aplomb, principally in a flawless first half.

Incredibly, it was Costello's full Leinster debut and only his third start overall in a truncated championship career stretching back to 2013. It would beggar belief, and his 2019 form graph, were he not to make it four tomorrow.

Gavin has some other selection issues to ponder in his full-back line, where options are suddenly plentiful; and at midfield, where Darren Gavin is under pressure after failing to catch fire on his summer baptism alongside the regal Brian Fenton.

But these calls are nothing to the multiple issues facing Kildare. A failure to finish off Longford in one day gives them just a week to fine-tune, physically, tactically and mentally.

It's a mammoth task on so many levels. Firstly, recent history: they've lost their last three SFC head-to-heads by a cumulative 44 points, so will they be in the right head space?

Secondly, Kildare's form has regressed since their Leinster final run (2017) and journey to the 'Super 8s' (2018). It's hardly a coincidence that, since last year, they've lost their thrilling X-factor (Daniel Flynn) and their most consistent forward (the injured Paul Cribbin).

Dublin were slick against Louth, more so than their usual May norm. Kildare are a more gifted and athletic proposition, but a notoriously fickle one. Hard to see beyond another Blue cruise.

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