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Monday 17 December 2018

I half-expect Jim to pick me!

EOGHAN’S GOAL: Eoghan O’Gara will be hopeful of getting the nod to take his spot in the forward line. Photo: SPORTSFILE
EOGHAN’S GOAL: Eoghan O’Gara will be hopeful of getting the nod to take his spot in the forward line. Photo: SPORTSFILE

In recent years, I can't recall such a low-key build-up to a Dublin championship match, especially one being played as late as August.

Effectively, the game against Roscommon in Croke Park on Sunday is irrelevant and that is a strange position for both teams to find themselves in at this stage.

Of course, this type of dead rubber can occur in the 'Super 8s' and it's one of the issues that needs tweaking but I'd still be positive in viewing the group stages as a step in the right direction.

As a result of the irrelevance of Sunday's match, I am half-expecting to receive a call from Jim Gavin, asking me to tog out so that his players can focus on the real task in hand on Saturday week!

The situation that Dublin have to deal with isn't a preferable one and it's really difficult to predict how Gavin and his back-room team deal with the dilemma of team selection.

It is very possible that he may well reward the players who have experienced limited game-time so far this championship and I would expect that the Dublin starting 15 will be almost entirely made up of fringe players or those that have made brief appearances from the bench.

Players like Mark Schutte, Conor McHugh, Eoghan O'Gara, Conor Mullally and the like could well start and that would be some reward for all their collective efforts in training over the past few months.

That is a chance for them to enjoy that unique Croke Park experience although, sadly, I don't anticipate a massive crowd turning up for what is essentially a meaningless fixture, given that neither Dublin nor Roscommon have anything tangible to play for.

However, Jim Gavin has always approached every game as Dublin manager intent on winning it and, in some respects, losing to Roscommon six days before an All-Ireland semi-final mightn't be the ideal scenario for which to prepare for their most important fixture of the year to date.

The short turnaround between games will certainly have disrupted the likely 'A' versus 'B' game that might have been planned for tomorrow and while Gavin will obviously want Dublin to win on Sunday, he will be fully conscious of the need to get the balance right for Saturday week.

Of course, I could be wrong and we might see a Dublin line-up similar in personnel to what started against Tyrone but I doubt very much that he will take that chance.

WORTHY EFFORTS: Conor McHugh may get a reward for his fine efforts in training over recent months. Photo: SPORTSFILE
WORTHY EFFORTS: Conor McHugh may get a reward for his fine efforts in training over recent months. Photo: SPORTSFILE

The atmosphere in Croke Park is hardly likely to inspire one way or the other and the match should really have been re-fixed for Parnell Park.

Either way, and irrespective of the personnel involved, Dublin should overcome this particular hurdle with a minimum of fuss and hopefully without suffering any injuries.

The atmosphere in Ballybofey should be far more lively as Donegal and Tyrone meet in their 'winner-takes-all' encounter to see who joins Dublin in the semi-finals.

Appealing

This is the type of fixture that makes the 'Super 8s' so appealing with both team's seasons on the line.

Donegal have certainly evolved under Declan Bonner and they have developed a nice balance between staying defensively sound while offering more of a threat in the opposing half.

Playing in MacCumhaill Park is definitely an advantage to them and they'll take a fair degree of momentum into the game after their comfortable win over Roscommon last Saturday week.

However, the questions remains on how they will set up against Tyrone on Sunday and will they have enough faith in their system to deal with the Tyrone challenge head on.

The loss of both Eoghan Bán Breathnach and Paddy McBrearty cannot be overestimated and they really need Ryan McHugh to have one of his more influential games.

The same could be said for Michael Murphy, despite his nine points against Roscommon, and in Colm Cavanagh and Frank Burns, Tyrone possess the type of player that could well limit Murphy's contribution on the day.

In some ways, Donegal may well be caught between two stools of playing more defensively and patiently or coming at their opponents from the first whistle.

Despite losing to Dublin a fortnight ago, Tyrone can justifiably take a lot of heart and confidence from a good performance and they currently look to have greater options up front than in recent times.

Niall Sludden is unlikely to be as marginalised as he was by Dublin's Eoin Murchan last Saturday week and, in terms of depth, they look to have a bench that is deeper than Donegal's, that could prove pivotal by the final whistle.

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