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Dubs willbeat drop

PERSPECTIVE can sometimes be lost whenever two sides collide in a game that comes under such banner-headline descriptions as 'must-win' or -- to offer a more lethal twist -- 'do-or-die'.

So perhaps we should start with a gentle reminder here: tomorrow's relegation play-off final in O'Connor Park will not make or break Dublin's season. Ditto with the Galway hurlers.

Whoever loses will curse their demotion to Division 1B and lament the longer-term consequences of playing a league campaign against lower-calibre opposition next spring ... but then they will dust themselves down and start focusing on the real job in hand, preparing for this year's championship.


Don't get us wrong, however: tomorrow is important. For Dublin to suffer league demotion just 12 months after claiming an historic NHL Division 1 crown, their first in 72 years, would constitute a sizeable enough blow to their self-belief, whatever about ego.

And self-belief, we should remember, was a key part of what made them such consistently defiant opponents last season. Then, their ability to chisel out narrow victories or draws where previous Dublin teams might have wilted helped propel them to the spring summit.

This year, the trend has been reversed whereby Dublin have established winning positions against Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary only to come away from those three games with a trifling one point. That's why they've ended up in this relegation mess.

As for this new-look Galway team, confidence must have been on the floor in the immediate wake of their 25-point capitulation in Nowlan Park two weeks ago.

Kilkenny have an unmerciful knack of inflicting such punishment on vulnerable prey, but the key for Galway is how they respond -- with inhibition or defiance.

The latter quality was certainly on display in Pearse Stadium last February, when a team top-heavy with All-Ireland U21 graduates out-thought, outfought and outscored Dublin -- by 0-20 to 0-13.

The comprehensive manner of that defeat was a surprise to Anthony Daly, who had been able to field a reasonably experienced outfit in Salthill. The visitors' plight was summed up by the unusual sight of Joey Boland getting the runaround at centre-back -- when he was eventually hauled off, after 50 minutes, Niall Burke had already clipped four points from play en route to a man-of-the-match performance.

Boland, to his credit, delivered a storming riposte in the ensuing weeks. So too did Dublin from a performance perspective at least (we can ignore their round-five defeat in Waterford on the grounds that the visitors fielded an experimental line-up in what was, for them, a dead-rubber contest).


Now the greatest challenge for Daly and his players is to turn performances into results, starting in Tullamore.

A cursory glance at the latest team selections bodes positively for the Sky Blues: whereas Galway are still without their injured forward talisman, Joe Canning, Dublin have several returnees from their casualty department. Peter Kelly is back to man the full-back barricades for the first time since aggravating a knee injury against Galway two months ago, while Conor McCormack and Paul Ryan are fit to resume attacking duties for the first time since the Kilkenny game.

There are some other intriguing selections, most notably the inclusion of Ross O'Carroll at corner-forward -- the prodigal Crokes man will be making his first league start since returning from an injury-ruined 'sabbatical' with the Dublin footballers.

There are also eye-catching switches, such as Paul Schutte to wing-back and Michael Carton to midfield ... although Dublin aren't averse to positional alterations at the throw-in, so it may be a case of watch this space.

Now for the all-important question -- who'll still be in 1A by close of play?

We thought Dublin would have too much for Galway in February -- and look what happened -- but we're sticking with them now on the basis of (a) their relocated goalscoring knack, (b) their improved selection options and (c) motivation.

Losing again to Galway, and moreover losing their top-flight status, is simply not an option.

ODDS: Dublin 8/11, Draw 9/1, Galway 11/8


DUBLIN: G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Kelly, R Trainor; P Schutte, J Boland, S Durkin; J McCaffrey, M Carton; C McCormack, R O'Dwyer, D Sutcliffe; R O'Carroll, L Rushe, P Ryan.

GALWAY: F Flannery; K Hynes, D Collins, G O'Halloran; N Donohue, F Moore, T óg Regan; D Burke, A Smyth; C Cooney, N Burke, B Daly; D Hayes, J Regan, D Glennon.