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dublin's strengthin depth is tested

WESTMEATH v DUBLIN, St Loman's Pk (2.0)

Dublin will be forced to field an experimental selection when they take their O'Byrne Cup bow against Westmeath in St Loman's Park, Mullingar tomorrow afternoon (2.0).

Already confirmed absentees for Dublin's first competitive outing of the year are Bernard Brogan, Dean Rock, James McCarthy and Paddy Andrews while 2011 Footballer of the Year Alan Brogan continues his rehabilitation from injury.


Others struggling through minor inconveniences are Kevin McManamon, Ciarán Kilkenny (pictured), Bryan Cullen and Denis Bastick as their availability or otherwise has ensured Jim Gavin will be unable to confirm his selection until later this afternoon.

His hand will be further weakened by many of his panel returning to their college sides, with Paul Mannion, David Byrne, Jack McCaffrey, Ciarán Reddin, Nicky Devereux and Kevin O'Brien only returning to the extended panel once their third level commitments are completed.

The success of St Vincent's in reaching the All-Ireland club championship semi-final has also complicated matters with Ger Brennan and Diarmuid Connolly, notwithstanding potential additions from the Marino club into Gavin's panel, unavailable for the duration of the O'Byrne Cup.

However, their absence will ensure that the oft quoted "strength in depth" that Dublin allegedly possess will be firmly put to the test as the Dubs look to make a positive start as they attempt to secure the solitary senior competition that eluded their grasp in 2013.

With so many of Dublin's attacking unit unavailable for tomorrow, the likes of Paul Hudson, Conor Walsh and Philly Ryan, if selected, will look to confirm the favourable impression they made during last Tuesday's facile victory over the Dubs Stars in Clondalkin.

Declan O'Mahony will likely be handed one of the midfield berths as Gavin assesses his centrefield options while Michael Fitzsimons looks primed for a central defensive position given that a large number of Gavin's first-choice defensive sextet will miss tomorrow's encounter.

There will be a degree of familiarity for Gavin in the opposing dug-out however with his former intercounty colleague Paul Bealin taking the reins at Westmeath in the close-season.

The former Parnells manager takes over a county that secured promotion to the top flight of the National Football League last spring and it will be imperative that Bealin can instil a confidence within his panel ahead of a potentially challenging league campaign, which begins with a trip to Cork early next month.

Recent challenge matches against Cavan, Roscommon and Meath, in which Bealin used 43 players, has offered encouragement for a Westmeath side that shipped a heavy sixteen-point defeat in their Leinster Championship outing against the Dubs last June.

A repeat of that 1-22 to 0-9 scoreline seems highly unlikely tomorrow but despite their numerous absentees, the competition for places within the Dublin panel should ensure a competent display and a winning start for the All-Ireland champions, who face DCU and Louth in the following seven days.

Verdict: DUBLIN