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Dublin must start with Bastick and spring Macauley from bench to finish off Mayo

By Peter Canavan

So, which one of the three Dublin forwards - Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn or Kevin McManamon - would you drop if you were Jim Gavin this week? This seems to have been the most popular question doing the rounds since the drawn encounter.

None of this much-vaunted attacking trio managed a score from play the last day, which was quite staggering when you consider the record of all three players.

I think that it's a feat which the Mayo defence didn't get enough credit for - to hold Dublin's most prolific forward of modern times, a four-time All Star and one of the contenders for Footballer of the Year scoreless. If you had told anyone that this scenario would happen on the morning of the match two weeks ago, they would probably have asked you one of two questions: (1) so what will be Mayo's winning score? Or (2) what fairytale are you going to write next?

From such a bizarre match, that had so many unusual twists and turns, it was probably the standout statistic and with all three of them being substituted, it was inevitable that people have been speculating whether one or more would feel the weight of the axe for today's replay.

However, I wouldn't drop any of them and I don't expect the Dublin manager will either. He has to give all three another chance - "you didn't do your job the last day, lads. Now, are you going to let that happen again?"

I think that's what an experienced manager like Gavin will be doing with such an experienced group who have delivered for him in spades in the past. He will know that they don't become bad players overnight and I'm sure he will place his trust in them to put it right.

As a player, when a manager gives you a second chance like that, it fills you with great confidence and all you want to do is pay him back. He's effectively saying to you that: "I know you didn't perform, but I also know you still have the ability, and I know you won't let me down this time."

When that happens, you're just bursting to knock the dressing room door down and go out and perform.

However, there is one change in personnel that I would make. I'd start Denis Bastick at the expense of Michael Darragh Macauley.

That is not necessarily a reflection on how he performed in the drawn match, but it is based on what I believe he can bring to the table from off the bench today.

The way I see it, this is going to be a hugely physical encounter from the throw-in. Having watched the drawn game over several times since, I still find it hard to believe how Dublin let themselves be bullied the last time. Mayo set the tempo in the physical stakes, they laid down the early markers and I just can't see that happening this time around.

It can't have sat easily with the Dublin management and their players and I'm sure it has come up for discussion in the past fortnight.

As a result, I think we are going to see a hugely intense start to the game with plenty of robust physical exchanges. I can see tempers reaching boiling point pretty quickly and I think a seasoned campaigner like Bastick would be at home in such an environment.

He'll relish all the fire and brimstone that comes his way and his defensive approach to midfield is the perfect foil for Brian Fenton who likes to use his athleticism and push forward so much.

That, in my opinion, would give Gavin an extra ace to play in the second half and bring on Michael Darragh with 20/25 minutes to go. He can be so dynamic with ball in hand and I think introducing his power and injection of pace against tiring Mayo legs would reap big rewards. His impact coming on is potentially much more effective than him starting and I'm sure the thought must have crossed Gavin's mind.

The only other change I'd consider making is maybe moving around the chess pieces in the Dublin attack at some point. Most of their forwards are capable of moving between the full and half-forward line, and I'd give serious thought to switching Connolly into full-forward during the game.

Connolly is an instinctive forward who knows when and how to pull the trigger in front of goal, but there's the likelihood that Lee Keegan would follow him and that would take the Mayo man out of his comfort zone.

It would also rob Mayo of one of their main attacking building blocks because Keegan is such a threat when thrusting forward with the ball.

As for Mayo's line-up, I can't see any change in personnel. The players who started the last day carried out Stephen Rochford's instructions as best they could and followed his game-plan to the letter. At times, their execution of his orders was poor but it was not for the want of trying.

One thing, however, that Rochford needs to look at is how to get the best from Aidan O'Shea. Not for the first time this year, the Mayo talisman failed to fire on all cylinders two weeks ago. Again, that was not for the want of trying. He worked his socks off at full-forward, particularly in the first half, but the service into him was poor. And when he moved out around midfield in the second half, he paid for his earlier efforts.

I think the problem for Aidan is that he's trying to do too much. He has been moved all over the field (remember he even played at full-back in the qualifier against Kildare), and while he has done the work willingly, the inspiration his team-mates need from him has been missing.

Which is why I'd play him at centre-forward. I think that's his best position. He's a very difficult man to stop powering forward with the ball and he has the ability to bring the forwards around him into the game.

The benefit would be two-fold as he would also give Cian O'Sullivan plenty to worry about. If you look back at the drawn match, Andy Moran's goal chance and the free in front of goal which ended with Michael Darragh's high challenge on Cillian O'Connor were both created when O'Sullivan was pulled out of the central defensive area. If you want to knock the Dubs off their stride, dragging O'Sullivan out of the middle is almost as important as cracking Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs.

Another intriguing battle awaits, with the sparks flying early before the game will take on a life of its own. Last year's All-Ireland semi-final and what we saw two weeks ago showed there's very little between these teams, but Dublin's bench - particularly when it comes to forward choices - is superior.

Paddy Andrews came on the last day and showed what he could do, while Paul Mannion's electric turn of pace is another weapon worth unleashing, especially if it's a dry day, and Eoghan O'Gara's physicality gives Gavin the option of going route one.

There's also Cormac Costello and Con O'Callaghan, two young fellas who must be champing at the bit. It's these reinforcements who can provide the artillery to shoot down Mayo's dream once more.

Belfast Telegraph


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