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Saturday 21 July 2018

Gillane can put dent in Gilroy plan

Alllianz HL Div 1B Limerick v Dublin (Gaelic Grds, Tonight 7.0, live eir Sport 1)

On the move: Dublin will look to Niall McMorrow to bring energy to their midfield
On the move: Dublin will look to Niall McMorrow to bring energy to their midfield

You've just crash-landed from Mars into the muck and rain and bone-chilling cold of February 2018. You cast a beady eye on the early Division 1B results and spot that, eight days after Offaly obliterated Dublin by 13 points, Limerick filleted the Faithful by 17.

While blissfully ignorant of hurling's finer details, you know your maths: it's a 30-point spread.

Now you look at tonight's fixture: Limerick at home to Dublin. Our man from Mars has it sussed ... this will be a sobering night for our Sky Blue stickmen.

Thankfully, for Pat Gilroy, linear logic such as the above doesn't always translate to team sport; even less so in the early rounds of the Allianz Hurling League.

That opening-night debacle in Croker went against all recent Dublin/Offaly trends, albeit when you took a closer look at the callowness of Gilroy's starting 15, their defeat was no great surprise.

Back in blue: Cian Boland will be hoping to put all his injury woes behind him
Back in blue: Cian Boland will be hoping to put all his injury woes behind him

Eye-catching

The margin was; but that was as much down to Offaly's eye-catching excellence on the night.

Maybe because of that performance, or maybe because of the game's low-key status in a faraway venue, not too many Dubs ventured to Corrigan Park in Belfast for their second league outing.

But it was a huge game for Dublin, partly because defeat would mean the next few weeks were all about a relegation dogfight; partly because of the need for atonement.

The response, for the most part, offered grounds for optimism.

Dublin were no great shakes against Antrim, and the manner in which they lost control and momentum in the last ten minutes was a worry.

But? The application was light years removed from the previous week.

They were hungry for battle and, on a soft pitch against an initially gung-ho Antrim, that is what it became.

Crucial to this, we suspect, was the altered line-up.

The rookie quotient was greatly reduced by the return of Eoghan O'Donnell and James Madden in defence; and more so by the recalls for Danny Sutcliffe, Conal Keaney, Eamonn Dillon and Paul Ryan up front.

Dublin were far better equipped, physically, to win either primary or secondary possession in attack. This was reflected in the spread of point-takers, with seven different players scoring from play in the first half alone.

Afterwards, Gilroy expressed delight with their "excellent" workrate over the first hour and "great character" to win it, having surrendered a five-point lead late on only for Donal Burke to land the winning free at the death.

He voiced some mild irritation at Antrim's ability to win "soft frees"; but discipline remains an obvious area for improvement.

Costly

Neil McManus nailed 11 frees from all distances, and missed several more ... all this coming after the Dublin defence coughed up 1-9 to Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin, from frees and a penalty, the previous week.

Any repeat is liable to prove costly against Limerick, for whom Aaron Gillane (who faces a late fitness test today) - last year's All-Ireland U21 star - has made a seamless senior transition. Gillane shot 0-11 (five from play) against Laois and then 1-8 (1-2 from play) against Offaly.

The midfield partnership of Cian Lynch and Paul Browne has flourished in both outings, too, but there was a noticeable improvement in Limerick's overall performance against Offaly.

Shannonside prospects are further boosted by tonight's return of skipper Declan Hannon, at centre-back, after a hamstring injury. All of which points towards a home victory ... albeit one a whole lot closer than our friendly Martian might predict.

Odds: Lim 1/5 Draw 11/1 Dublin 4/1

Verdict: Limerick

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