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Bernard is back to rock Royals

IF you were of a mind to read deeply into team selections at this time of year, one could possibly surmise that both Pat Gilroy and Seamus McEnaney secretly harbour designs on early season silverware.

That said, we're not too sure exactly what the O'Byrne Cup Shield actually looks like and just how prized a trophy it really is in the minds of these rival managers so we'll scrap that notion out of hand.

The other possible reason both managers have named their strongest respective teams of the year so far revolves around the whole rivalry thing.

McEnaney said this week that tonight's match was of benefit purely because it gave him another competitive look at his new players before the league starts.

Gilroy, meanwhile, has been completely underwhelmed by the benefits of this competition but has, at least, articulated his satisfaction at the desire which has seen a near scratch Dublin team hammer Wexford and Offaly in successive weeks.

It is obvious, though, that Gilroy longs to get his first-team squad all together to begin 2011 in earnest and the past week has handed him the opportunity to do so following the exits of DCU, UCD and DIT from the O'Byrne Cup.

Tonight, three championship starters from 2010 come into the team, namely Mick Fitzsimons, Ger Brennan and Bernard Brogan, indicating an ambition to go and beat Meath on the part of the Dublin management.

Their selections suggest that Gilroy will field strong selections right through the league, experimenting only when it is completely necessary, as in the case of the full-back position.

Speaking of which, last week's victory over Offaly featured a much-improved display from Seán Murray at number three though all such performances come with the caveat of winter football attached.

Of the players to miss out, both Alan Hubbard and Kevin can rest assured that a league squad berth is nailed down after good performances last week while Conor McKiernan can expect a decent run out in the same competition.

As for the players coming in, well, one name leaps off the page. Bernard Brogan's sole appearance of the season so far as a substitute against Wexford featured a goal, a point and an assist for Eoghan O'Gara and if there's any player with the desire and hunger required to improve on what was a spectacular 2010, it's Brogan.

Remember, Gilroy made a point of leaving him out of matches early last year in order to emphasise the work-rate required to qualify for a spot in his new-look Dublin team but Brogan has long since proven his worth in all aspects of the game so a start in every match from here to the summer is entirely plausible.

McEnaney, meanwhile, clearly has designs on extending Meath's winning streak over Dublin to two matches after recalling a host of championship faces.

Gary O'Brien, Kevin Reilly, Seamus Kenny, Mark Ward , Shane O'Rourke and Joe Sheridan have all been named to start and 'Banty' has openly acknowledged the benefits of hitting the league on the back of a winning streak.

It's still January so no-one is getting too excited about derbies yet but this rivalry transcends the time of year so expect as competitive match as either of these teams have produced this year.

And given their sharpness in front of goal over the past two weeks and the return of Brogan, expect a narrow Dublin win too.

DUBLIN (SF v Meath): S Cluxton; D Daly, S Murray, M Fitzsimons; D Lally, G Brennan, P Casey; D Bastick, C Murphy; D Kelly, K McManamon, D Connolly; B Brogan, G Cullen, T Quinn. Subs: M Savage, A Hubbard, W Lowry, C McKiernan, B Cahill, J McCarthy, P Andrews, P Flynn, A Brogan, MD Macauley.

MEATH (SF): P O'Rourke; G O'Brien, K Reilly, C King; S Kenny, B Menton, C McGuinness; M Ward, C Gillespie; S McAnarney, S O'Rourke, D Morgan; P Gilsenan, J Sheridan, B Farrell

ODDS: Dublin 4/9, Draw 15/2, Meath 9/4