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Joe Kernan: No substitute for fresh legs at this stage of the season

When I managed Crossmaglen Rangers and we were very fortunate to win three All-Ireland Club titles I think we used something like 17 players in all.

Times have certainly changed.

Right now, the part being played by substitutes in major championship matches cannot be over-stated. Look at last weekend: Christy Toye was on the field for just 20 seconds when he scored Donegal’s goal against Kildare; Alan Smith, Ronan Sweeney and Gary White all landed points for the Lilywhites in injury-time and Jason Doherty swung over a vital score for Mayo against Cork.

All this underlined for me just how important replacements are given the pace, intensity and passion of present-day high-profile championship matches, particularly when the safety-net of the qualifiers is no longer available to teams. We have all become accustomed to the claim that it is now a 20-man game and while many have thought it a tired cliche there is no doubt that this mantra has gained considerable credence.

The Armagh v Wicklow and Donegal v Kildare ties went to extra-time and made huge demands on the players.

There is simply no way that the teams would have got through such hard-fought, competitive matches without substitutes.

Last Saturday Tyrone used 22 players against Roscommon including two blood substitutes. I have no doubt that manager Mickey Harte was glad to call on each and every one of these players in securing victory.

And you can be sure that substitutes will also play an important part in this game particularly as the wide open Croke Park drains every last ounce of energy from the fittest of men.

Don’t rule out the possibility of extra-time, either. If it is anything like the Donegal v Kildare or Mayo v Cork ties then we are in for a treat.

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