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Time to face the demons

WHEN is the best time to play Kerry? Evidently, from a Sky Blue perspective, the answer is not August. But when it comes to the National League, an opening round fixture in February may well fit the bill.

There goes the theory. The proof will be in the Fitzgerald Stadium pudding tomorrow afternoon.

There is a major rebuilding job currently occupying minds in the capital. The trouble is that the Dublin team unveiled by Pat Gilroy on Thursday is very much a work in progress, and there's no guarantee how many of them will prove up to the championship mark.

For months now, Gilroy has been talking up the need for a major revamp -- and talking down Dublin's short-term ambitions in the same breath -- so it hardly came as a massive shock when so many new faces were chosen to face the Kingdom.

Moreover, for those who believe he has gone too far, the Dublin boss has the ready-made alibi of a lengthy casualty list that includes Denis Bastick, Barry Cahill, Darren Magee, Alan Brogan, Tomás Quinn, Conal Keaney and Ger Brennan.

For all that, this still constitutes a pretty drastic overhaul. A whole new full-back line, with the O'Carroll brothers joined by Philly McMahon in the corner. A new centre-back flanked by a rookie on the wing. Eamonn Fennell back from his 'gap year' and now -- suddenly free of any eligibility issues -- determined to nail down one of those critical midfield places.

Oh, and did we mention the forwards? We use the latter word advisedly because a cynic might describe the chosen front six as a consortium of two corner-backs, one (or even two) midfielders, and just a pair of recognisable poachers.

A more balanced assessment is that Gilroy has chosen a team primarily aimed at stopping the carnage inflicted by rampant Kerrymen last August. The Dublin boss wasn't happy with the paucity of tackling by his forward line in last year's quarter-final, allowing the likes of Tomás ó Sé, Mike McCarthy and even full-back Tom O'Sullivan to launch menacing attacks from deep.

This may (at least partly) explain the composition of his team. Michael MacAuley has been named on the '40' but he's on the Dublin panel because of his midfield exploits for Ballyboden. His wing men are Paul Flynn (who will work all day but won't shoot the lights out) and Alan Hubbard, a pocket dynamo who was Dublin's first choice No4 between January and June last year. Another erstwhile corner-back, David Henry, has been relocated to corner-forward, of the roving variety presumably.

On paper, this seems to place a massive scoring onus on the shoulders of Blaine Kelly and Kevin McManamon. Both players know where the posts are, but Kelly was in and out of the team last spring while McManamon is making his league debut.


It's a big ask for this inexperienced inside duo, even against a weakened Kerry defence lacking the stellar services of the ó Sé brothers, O'Sullivan and McCarthy, and commentators are right to wonder why Bernard Brogan has been held in reserve.

There has been plenty of debate too about Kerry's own selection headaches. Certainly, they are a long way off full strength and potentially vulnerable -- thus the shortened 11/8 odds on a Sky Blue ambush. On the flip side, their starting 15 is still sprinkled with far more proven elite performers.

As suggested by the Herald on Wednesday, Kieran Donaghy will be on square patrol.

With Colm Cooper sidelined by injury and Darran O'Sullivan out of the country, Donaghy will be flanked by two relative rookies -- albeit talented ones, in the guise of Barry John Walsh (younger brother of the Australia-bound Tommy) and free-taker Paul O'Connor. The half-forward line also includes two current All Stars in Paul Galvin and Declan O'Sullivan.

Harking back to our intro, this may well be the best time to face Kerry but with a spine comprising Tommy Griffin, Aidan O'Mahony (with a point to prove) and Micheál Quirke alongside All Star midfielder Seamus Scanlon, then O'Sullivan and Donaghy in the forwards, the odds must still favour the All-Ireland champions.

ODDS: Kerry 8/11, Draw 15/2, Dublin 11/8


KERRY: G Reidy; P Reidy, T Griffin, A O'Connell; M Corridan, A O'Mahony, K Young; S Scanlon, M Quirke; P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; BJ Walsh, K Donaghy, Paul O'Connor. Subs: B Kealy, Alan O'Sullivan, J O'Donoghue, P Corridan, Aidan O'Sullivan, K O'Leary, BJ Keane, B Looney, Paudge O'Connor, J Buckley.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; Ross O'Carroll, Rory O'Carroll, P McMahon; P Griffin, C O'Sullivan, J McCarthy; E Fennell, R McConnell; A Hubbard, M McAuley, P Flynn; D Henry, B Kelly, K McManamon. Subs: M Savage, P Conlon, C McCormack, P Casey, B Cullen, D Carrigan, T Diamond, J Brogan, B Brogan, D Kelly, K Bonner, B McManamon.