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Declan Bogue: Dublin boss Gavin weighs up Cooper conundrum for replay

Marching orders: Dublin coach shakes Jonny Cooper’s hand after he was sent off in the drawn final
Marching orders: Dublin coach shakes Jonny Cooper’s hand after he was sent off in the drawn final
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Here's something you might not have known.

When teams face each other in the National League, a county administrator usually enters the referee's room with three copies of the team sheet, which will contain the starting 15 and a maximum of 11 substitutes.

In the Championship, this is supposed to happen 40 minutes before throw-in. However, backroom members of counties will tell you it's a case of waiting to see who blinks first. Sometimes you barely get the opposition team before you go back out to the pitch to start the game.

There is no such restriction in the league, so usually five minutes before the game is due to start, the teams will be handed over.

Naturally, this causes a great deal of stress prior to matches - not only for opposition managers trying to figure out their match-ups, but also to broadcasters who might want to flash up graphics of the teams on screen.

Some county boards make a great fuss out of announcing their starting team through their social media channels, but we have long seen these missives as bogus, the match programme likewise. There is barely a manager left that starts the team they name in the programme.

But one match-up you can be absolutely sure of in this Saturday's All-Ireland final replay will be that of Dublin defender Jonny Cooper going onto Kerry starlet David Clifford. It will be this duel that ultimately decides the outcome.

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There are other factors. Can Kerry really allow Jack McCaffrey another day as a free man, becoming their most effective attacker and highest scorer from play? And everything has to be taken into the context of Kerry playing the drawn game a man up for 43 minutes.

But Cooper on Clifford is a game-definer.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin and Cooper may feel they have the better of things. Could a referee really send Cooper off in a second successive All-Ireland final less than a fortnight apart? Certainly, there is a certain pressure.

On the other hand, the referee on the day, Conor Lane, will not have been immune to all the plaudits that came the way of David Gough for being brave enough to punish Cooper for his persistent fouling and clear yellow card offences.

For his part, Gavin will be reluctant to change the marking roles and switch Cooper with Michael Fitzsimons, forcing Cooper out the pitch to tag Paul Geaney.

Anyone watching the first game will have been puzzled by Gavin's refusal to make the switch once Cooper earned his first yellow and looked in serious trouble. Asked afterwards in the post-match briefing if he was "disappointed" he didn't make the switch by Radio Kerry presenter Tim Moynihan, Gavin shot back, "No," even though the evidence was stacked against him.

Cooper's red is the latest in a damaging trend for Dublin. John Small was sent to the stands for two yellows in the 2017 and 2018 finals, while James McCarthy and Cooper both went for black cards in the 2016 decider.

Can Cooper play Clifford like the first day? No, he cannot. Despite his youth, Clifford is too cute and is a constant threat right to the end of games. He does not fade out of matches and Kerry will aim to isolate him and Cooper for Geaney to get measured ball inside.

When it comes, Cooper might be best advised to shepherd him as wide as possible. Defenders diving in on a player like Clifford is his dream. The more ball he gets, the better he shapes a game. In the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone, their All-Star contending full-back Ronan McNamee looked to be coping well. In the first half, four balls were played in between them and McNamee won two.

Clifford also kicked two points, one of them from play, and found himself drifting out the field to link play, making three hand passes and a kick pass, losing possession once and kicking two wides.

A restructuring of the Kerry defence at half-time meant Tyrone picked up less ball. In the second half, Clifford had 10 involvements. He kicked three points from play, set up Stephen O'Brien for a point and won a free off Conor Meyler that helped run down the clock in injury-time.

How do Dublin cope? The health and fitness of Cian O'Sullivan is critical. If he can start, then Dublin will have a reshuffle. The game has evolved from the role of the anointed sweeper but, on this occasion, it is necessary. O'Sullivan can start at centre-back and Dublin can push James McCarthy into midfield.

With McCarthy in midfield, Michael Darragh Macauley will drop out and be primed for a run in the second half. Brian Howard will then drop a line into midfield when Kerry have the ball, McCarthy will fill in at centre-back, and O'Sullivan will sweep at the feet of Clifford, frustrating Kerry into a ball-carrying game which they are destined to lose against Dublin's superior conditioning.

Whether any of this will come to pass depends on how inflexible Gavin might have become over the run of four consecutive All-Ireland titles. After the 2014 semi-final defeat to Donegal, he changed his outlook on the number of attacking defenders he would allow.

Will he make the decision to re-integrate a sweeper? Can he afford not to?

TV to allow everyone to see thrills of Ulster county finals

So, it's from one drive for five to another. Many will be unaware that a county Championship can be dominated in this day of marginal gains.

A county title is extremely difficult to clinch given all the variables in the club game, with emigration, some cases of poor refereeing, loss of appetite and so on.

On September 22, however, everyone will be able to see Derrygonnelly Harps attempt to land their fifth consecutive Fermanagh crown when they face Roslea Shamrocks live on TG4.

That it comes a week after the All-Ireland final replay is perfect timing. The inter-county season was due to be wrapped up by this stage but, thankfully, we get to see some lavish riches for one last time this weekend.

The advent of county final season, though, acts like a sign that winter is on its way.

For your correspondent here, it is the best time of the season to report on Gaelic games. Think about it; every week you get to cover a game that for practically every single player is the biggest of their lives. At the end, the winners celebrate wildly and their supporters are ecstatic.

There is no talk of 'work-ons' or developing their game for later in the season.

Everything is on the line for one hour and the agony and the ecstasy follows straight after.

TG4's screening of county finals has proved such a hit that RTÉ are getting in on the act, broadcasting some of the games from the Cork Hurling Championship.

Such coverage would have been considered incredible in previous generations, but it only exists now because of the demand for it.

And on September 29, the hidden gem of the GAA calendar will be beamed into front rooms everywhere; the Antrim hurling final. It's long been on the bucket list for GAA fans to visit, but now everyone can get a look up close, with a stove burning turf and a cup of tea on your lap. What more could you want?

Top marks to all.

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