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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Gavin's subs use is key to Dubs glory

Bernard will stay in reserve despite cameo

Bernard Brogan scored five points from play after being introduced as a first half sub in last Sunday’s Leinster SFC final win against Kildare. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan scored five points from play after being introduced as a first half sub in last Sunday’s Leinster SFC final win against Kildare. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

I was picked to start the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo so long as Diarmuid Connolly's suspension for the red card he got in the drawn game stood.

Of course, Diarmuid got off at about three o'clock on the morning of the match and I went back onto the bench.

I was disappointed naturally, but I knew what the story was if the appeal was successful.

By that stage of summer, I'd just about made peace with this new role.

Every manager throws out the line that it's all about the squad, that the subs have to be ready to make an impact when they come in and for the most part, players who aren't picked find that sort of talk transparent and patronising.

I was no exception.

Preached

But it was something that Jim Gavin has preached about from the very start of his tenure and it's something he has religiously practiced, making six substitutions in almost every game.

It took guys a while to get used to this idea that certain players or their skill-sets were better suited to that crucial period of the game.

That the team that finishes the match is as important, if not more so, than the side selected to start.

It's a hard pill to swallow if you're not picked but I can see the logic now.

Jim wanted experienced guys with cool heads on the pitch in the closing stages of matches, although he didn't explain it like that.

He's not the sort of manager who will take you aside and tell you he sees your role this year as an impact sub even if that's probably what I would have liked him to say to get it clear in my own mind why I wasn't playing and the logic behind how he planned to use me.

But Jim's shrewd.

He knows if he lays it out in those terms, it can affect how a player trains.

All that stuff about competition in training driving up standards is actually true.

If you're number 30 and you want to get into the match day panel, you train better and harder.

The same goes if, like me in 2015, you're on the bench and you want to start.

Jim knew I'd work to get my spot back and that that would make me a better player for whenever he wanted to use me.

It also means you're ready if something happens and you're thrown in to start, like the 2015 Mayo game had Diarmuid's suspension stood.

Kevin McManamon is an obvious man that springs to mind when you talk about using your bench.

It's not that Kevin isn't one of the six best forwards in the squad, it's just that the way he plays makes him more dangerous when the game opens up and when defenders tire.

With Kevin, it's not just a case of replacing one forward with another of comparable quality.

You're changing the entire dynamic of the forward line.

Imagine you're marking Paddy Andrews or Bernard Brogan and you've done okay on them for 45 or 50 minutes and then on comes Kevin McManamon demanding the ball, turning and rampaging towards goal as though he's trying to bore a hole right through the middle of you.

Think of all the important goals that Kevin has scored for Dublin in highly-pressurised situations.

That takes a special sort of footballer and a special sort of character. I've been amazed by what Kevin has been able to do over the years.

He spoke openly last year about wanting to nail down a starting place but every time he has gone back to the subs bench, he's managed to suppress the disappointment enough to make a positive impact from reserve.

It's no surprise that he works in sports psychology because his mental preparation is phenomenal and it's something I would have spoken to him about that year.

Monumental

Michael Darragh Macauley has similar qualities. He didn't start the 2015 final or last year's replay but had a monumental influence on both of those games, arguably greater than had he started.

Like Kevin, he's strong and direct and unpredictable and it must be a nightmare if you're a midfielder or a centre-back who has played 60 minutes of an exhausting championship match against Dublin and he comes on.

By contrast but no less importantly, Denis Bastick is a fella we haven't seen so far this year for Dublin but I wouldn't be surprised if he plays an important part now as things get trickier.

Not if Dublin are chasing a game, but if they're ahead and need a trusted head around the middle of the pitch to protect the defence and do the simple things calmly.

All of which is probably why Bernard's performance last Sunday will work against him winning back a starting place now.

In that one cameo, he demonstrated to Jim that he has the mental side of being a sub nailed down and that he can be just as influential when he doesn't start.

And given the calibre of opposition Dublin will face from here on in, that's going to be so important.

Fellas like Con O'Callaghan, Niall Scully and Paul Mannion have earned their starting spots on the basis of good Leinster Championship campaigns but by the same token, Jim will be much more comfortable finishing with the likes of Bernard, Kevin, Michael Darragh, Denis Bastick, Paul Flynn, Eoghan O'Gara and maybe even Diarmuid Connolly on the pitch after bringing them on.

When Jim looks to his bench in the most important part of Dublin's season and he sees some of those faces, he know he's not diluting the quality of the team.

If anything, they'll strengthen it.

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