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Sunday 13 October 2019

More at stake in 'dead rubber' for Gavin to rotate as trip to Omagh beckons

FULL STRETCH: Roscommon’s Conor Cox goes for the posts as Dublin’s Jonny Cooper closes in last Saturday. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
FULL STRETCH: Roscommon’s Conor Cox goes for the posts as Dublin’s Jonny Cooper closes in last Saturday. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Almost a year ago to the day, Jim Gavin was asked whether the fact that his team had just confirmed their place in the All-Ireland semi-final with a gritty victory over Tyrone on a mysteriously narrowed Healy Park pitch would have any practical bearing on his approach to Dublin's final match in the augural Super 8s against Roscommon.

Even by the Dublin manager's minimalist standards, his response was clipped.

"No," he dead-panned.

Fifteen days later, Gavin sent a team out featuring ten changes from the Tyrone victory, resting all of his first-choice attack, to stroll to a 14-point victory over Roscommon in Croke Park.

Quite how instructive that episode is in the context of the situation facing Gavin now is open to interpretation.

The similarities are obvious but the differences are significant.

Technically, Dublin are in an identical situation - All-Ireland semi-finalists with a game to spare.

But asked on Saturday night whether the dynamic of the Tyrone game had changed by virtue of the fact that both teams were already through, Gavin's reply was far more elaborate.

"No, not for us," he said.

"Any time we play Tyrone, they've been great games in recent times. We played them last time on the 16th of March, 18 weeks ago.

Practical

"So back then, they looked very fit, very strong side. An outstanding team with an outstanding manager and management team.

"So we'll prepare as well as we can for that game and give it our best shot."

On a strictly practical level, it's debatable what benefit there is to Dublin bringing their full might to Healy Park on August 5.

Winning will achieve top spot in Division 1 although there is no confirmation yet from Croke Park which semi-final the winners would play in.

Technically then, Dublin could achieve victory in Omagh for the second time in two seasons but face a six-day turnaround before their last four match.

It happened last year, when they met Galway six days after that Roscommon victory.

John Horan's recent observation that "a Dublin game is generally on a Saturday night," might not have been a citation of strict CCCC policy.

But it wouldn't be any great surprise were they to play in the first of this year's All-Ireland semi-finals on the evening of August 11th.

The other issue up for decision when Dublin go to Omagh is who they pair off with in the semi-final.

Kerry, Mayo and Donegal are their potential opponents and though there are several permutations to consider before the final standings in Group 1 are decided, the likelihood is that, form holding, Kerry will finish first with a victory in Navan on Saturday week.

If that happens and Dublin lose in Omagh, football's most endearing rivalry would get another airing in the All-Ireland semi-final.

A Dublin victory would ensure they'll be kept apart until a potential final, the first time the counties have met in an All-Ireland decider since 2015.

Such issues are highly unlikely to bear any influence on Gavin's thinking however.

Of far greater concern to Gavin will be the energy levels of his players - particularly those carrying knocks - and an unwillingness to cough up a first Championship defeat in five years, regardless of what's at stake.

Lingering

Both Paul Mannion and Ciarán Kilkenny were back sitting on the Dublin bench within three minutes of the start of the second half on Saturday night, withdrawn at the earliest possible moment.

By the 57th minute, Con O'Callaghan, Jack McCaffrey and Mick Fitzsimons were plonked alongside them.

Meanwhile, James McCarthy and Jonny Cooper played the duration, shedding any lingering worries about their recent injuries.

Gavin then, possesses a squad in rude health.

But unlike last year, when his diluted selection took apart a Roscommon team who were already out, Dublin are going to play last year's All-Ireland final opponents in a game plenty have already predicted will be a rehearsal for this year's decider.

That League game he cited back on March 16 stung a little harder than any of Dublin's other defeats this spring.

Tyrone's physicality that night, the joy they got from attacking Dublin's full-back line with direct ball and the broken jaw suffered by Paddy Andrews in a challenge with Niall Morgan all saw to that.

Asked whether he put any value on whether Dublin finished first or second in the group now, Gavin replied: "The value we put on is any time the guys go on the field to represent Dublin, we expect that they do their very best.

"So our focus is now on that Tyrone game."

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