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Saturday 16 December 2017

'Lure of starting Diarmuid may be too much for Jim to resist'

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly. Pic: Sportsfile

In any team, certain allowances are made occasionally for ingenious talents. And as we get closer to Sunday, I'm starting to think Jim Gavin will make one of those and start Diarmuid Connolly against Tyrone.

Jim has already made concessions for Diarmuid in the past and he's a talent worth the gamble of maybe upsetting other members of the panel.

In 2015, as his appeal saga dragged from our drawn All-Ireland semi-final with Mayo into the early hours of the morning of the replay, I was picked to start in the event that the DRA threw Diarmuid's case out.

Demoted

Obviously, they won and I was demoted and though Diarmuid didn't have a great game, Jim had backed him to the hilt all week and for that reason, was always going to play him in the replay.

Starting him on Sunday would go against Jim's principles a little bit.

Rival managers Mickey Harte and Jim Gavin are set for a major tactical battle this Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile
Rival managers Mickey Harte and Jim Gavin are set for a major tactical battle this Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

He's very much about form and about whoever has the jersey owning it.

But this is an All-Ireland semi-final. There's a piece of history at stake here; three All-Irelands in-a-row and a very dangerous Tyrone between Dublin and a crack at that amazing achievement.

So there's a moral dilemma to be negotiated.

Is it worth putting your principles aside to get your best player back into the team?

Football-wise, it's fairly straightforward. Tyrone will concede the Dublin kick-out and set up camp around ten metres outside their '45'.

Diarmuid is the best player Dublin have at kicking points from outside that exclusion zone, particularly with Paul Flynn on the bench.

And Jim could just feel that there's just too much at stake here not to have your best players on the pitch.

Eric Lowndes started in that wing-forward spot against Monaghan and curbed the influence of Karl O'Connell and could do the same on Peter Harte or Tiernan McCann if required next Sunday.

But starting Diarmuid in place of Eric is probably an easy enough switch to make from Jim's point of view in that he doesn't have to drop one of the big names.

Personally, I'd leave Diarmuid off.

Three months out of competitive football is enough to have doubts about form and mindset.

And the lift Diarmuid will give to Croke Park if and when he comes on in what could be one of those weird kind of afternoons when the atmosphere lulls due to the type of game on show would be priceless for Dublin. I wouldn't be inclined to sacrifice that.

Jim isn't afraid to make early changes either, so he could stick with the same team knowing that the way Tyrone play, they're unlikely to blow Dublin out of the water early on, and then change the dynamic completely and put Mickey Harte on the back foot by bringing Diarmuid in for Lowndes after 25 or 30 minutes.

It's a very difficult call.

You're running the risk of upsetting fellas, who were probably showing the sort of form in training that convinced them they were getting closer to a start, by parachuting a fella in directly in front of them.

Either way, there will be experienced Dublin footballers who won't even make it on to the pitch on Sunday, let alone get a start.

And for Jim to maintain that competitive dynamic in the squad, he needs subs putting pressure on starters.

And the only way to generate that is for those subs to feel like they're getting as fair a crack at making the team as the lads starting in front of them.

Plus, there's always the risk of it backfiring.

We've no idea what Diarmuid's form is like. Tyrone are the sort of team who play an aggressive brand of footballer and if he starts that game, is his mindset going to be in the right place?

You can talk about the value of 'A' versus 'B' training games but Dublin and Tyrone in an All-Ireland semi-final is more than a couple of steps up from that level of intensity.

But as we shuffle closer to Sunday, I just think the obvious lure of starting Diarmuid might be too much for Jim to resist.

If Eric starts, he won't finish but he'll make sure Harte or McCann don't take flight without someone putting pressure on them early in their forwards runs. There won't be a whole lot of space for Dublin's forwards early on this Sunday.

We've seen in all but the Carlow game how Dublin have killed Championship matches this summer with early blasts of scoring but Tyrone will be obsessed with keeping this one painfully tight and taking it into the last ten minutes still in contention.

We probably know what this one looks like already.

Tyrone are going to concede Dublin's kickouts, get a lot of men back in tight groups.

Dublin are going to keep their wing and corner forwards wide, try and stretch that cover and invite their runners to punch holes.

It's going to be cagey. It won't be a game for the ages by any means or involve the sort of excitement we saw in Croke Park last Sunday but it should be intriguing from a tactical perceptive.

Dublin won't wander down those blind alleys where there are three or four Tyrone players waiting to mug them.

They'll be patient. Lots of sideways passing and plenty of lateral movement in one of those games where the crowd could get frustrated.

Vitally though, it's long gone past the point where Dublin will get frustrated.

They're drilled to within an inch of their lives at this stage in how to play against this sort of team.

This is the ultimate test of all that drilling.

In fact, this is the biggest test of Jim's tactical brain since that Donegal defeat in 2014, the one he's been building towards for two years.

Expect Dublin to win ugly.

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