Sunday 24 March 2019

Gavin has plenty of cards in hand for duel with Tribe

Strength in depth in attack gives the Dubs boss plenty of food for thought

Dublin’s James McCarthy, in action against Roscommon’s Tadhg O’Rourke last Sunday, gives his manager Jim Gavin options at midfield and across the half-back line
Dublin’s James McCarthy, in action against Roscommon’s Tadhg O’Rourke last Sunday, gives his manager Jim Gavin options at midfield and across the half-back line

Around midday on September 17 last year, word spread from Croke Park to the congregation in its surrounding areas that Eoghan O'Gara had been parachuted into the Dublin team for his first start of the summer's championship in that afternoon's All-Ireland final.

Niall Scully, Dublin's find of the year, started on the bench - as would Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan.

Afterwards, as he surveyed Dublin's third All-Ireland in succession, selector Declan Darcy explained the decision.

"The safe bet would have been not to start him, to go traditional, maybe start Niall (Scully) or Paul (Flynn)," he observed.

"But then, you have to take chances to get across the line sometimes.

"Jim's very predictable," he added, smiling.


Gavin has never been reluctant to make major selection decisions in big matches.

It is one of the growingly evident number of traits he shares with Brian Cody.

A year previous, Gavin dropped two recent Footballers of the Year, Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley - along with David Byrne - for the All-Ireland final replay, selecting Paul Mannion, Paddy Andrews and Mick Fitzsimons in their stead.

And the contrasting current scoring form of Dublin's inside forwards may force Gavin now to consider tinkering with his starting 15 for Saturday's All-Ireland SFC semi-final with Galway while already, he has a key decision to make in both midfield and defence.

The exploits of Cormac Costello in last Sunday's victory over Roscommon, in which he scored 0-9, including six points from play, has pushed him closer to the Dublin starting 15 than he has been since 2014, when - prior to the Roscommon game - Costello last began a championship match in that year's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal.

Mannion and Con O'Callaghan, both All Stars last year, are the likeliest to come under threat from Costello's strong recent run of form.

Though both Mannion and O'Callaghan were essentially rested last Sunday in Croke Park, neither have been prolific of late.

Mannion hasn't scored since the Leinster final and has just 1-4 (0-1 '45') from his five appearances in this year's championship.

He was also the first player taken off in Omagh on the night that Dublin's victory consigned the Roscommon match to dead rubber status.

The Kilmacud Crokes forward made a couple of now trademark clean-dispossession tackles, however, including one brilliantly-executed goal-saving effort on Cathal McShane in the first half.

But like O'Callaghan, he has struggled to convert work-rate into scores.

Mannion was also substituted after 48 minutes in Dublin's previous match against Donegal in Croke Park and missed a penalty in the Leinster final.

O'Callaghan meanwhile, similarly hasn't scored since hitting 0-2 in that provincial decider on a day when he had three goal chances saved by Laois's outstanding 'keeper, likely All Star nominee, Graham Brody.

It would, however, rank as a major surprise if Gavin left the reigning Young Footballer of the Year out.

He missed all but the final minutes of this year's league after Cuala went to an All-Ireland club SHC final replay against Na Piarsaigh - O'Callaghan also won a Sigerson Cup with UCD in February - although Gavin started him in Dublin's three Leinster SFC games and both 'Super 8' games prior to Roscommon and is likely to do so again this Saturday.

As it went, Gavin left out all six forwards and both midfielders that started against Tyrone for the Roscommon game last week.

Andrews made his first appearance since the Leinster final having started all three of Dublin's provincial games, although the form of Costello, Eoghan O'Gara - who scored 2-2 - and Paul Flynn (1-3) is more notable.

Bernard Brogan's six minute cameo puts him back in the reckoning also, but well down the list of Gavin's attacking options for what is a first Championship match between Dublin and Galway since the infamous 1983 All-Ireland SFC final.

Gavin must also decide whether to go with Michael Darragh Macauley or James McCarthy in midfield alongside Brian Fenton.

McCarthy and Fenton formed a strong central pairing last year but Macauley has played every championship match this summer bar the win over Tyrone in Omagh.

That decision will also have major ramifications for the starting Dublin defence.

If Macauley starts in midfield and McCarthy goes to his more natural habitat of the Dublin half-back line, it will force one of Gavin's blue chip defensive options.

One of Jonny Cooper, Philly McMahon, Cian O'Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey, John Small and Mick Fitzsimons will lose out in that scenario while Eoin Murchan, who started Dublin's two biggest matches of this summer so far against Donegal and Tyrone, would also lose out.

Na Fianna pair, Cooper and Murchan were the only two of those defenders not to play any part against Roscommon while Fitzsimons, an All Star in 2017, wasn't selected to start in Omagh and he also struggled last Sunday in Croke Park.

The man he was marking, Diarmuid Murtagh, scored four points from play while a handling error from Fitzsimons also led to Donie Smith scoring Roscommon's second goal, albeit well after the result was decided.

How much stock Gavin puts in performances from last week - good or bad, we won't know for certain until Saturday afternoon. But the evidence of his hugely-successful stint as manager of Dublin shows he won't hesitate to trust his instincts in his selection to face the Tribesmen.

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