Saturday 17 March 2018

Bench warfare hits new levels as cavalries set to decide Dublin-Kerry battle

All-Ireland final will see unrivalled reserves of strength

After coming on as a sub, Kevin McManamon fires home Dublin’s third goal against Mayo
After coming on as a sub, Kevin McManamon fires home Dublin’s third goal against Mayo
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Mick O'Dywer didn't care too much about making substitutes.

Most of the time he didn't have to. With the Kerry team he had, things tended to look after themselves, especially when they won. In their eight successful All-Ireland finals under his command between 1975 and 1986, O'Dwyer ran in just nine substitutes.

One was the norm, but once he stretched in to two, for the 1981 final against Roscommon when Pat Spillane and Ger O'Keeffe came in.

Permitted substitutions ran to three in those days but few managers ever 'ran their bench.'

Often it was a case of necessity, like when Mickey Ned O'Sullivan was taken out of it in '75 or when goalkeeper Paudie O'Mahony picked up an injury a year later and was replaced by Charlie Nelligan, the only time O'Dwyer used the full complement of replacements in his 10 finals.

Think of the benches involved in this Sunday's final and the potential impact they will have. Has there ever been rival cavalries to deliver so much influence? Has there ever been so many potential match-winners that will spend so long in waiting?

It's been a feature of Jim Gavin-managed teams to 'max out' on the number of substitutes introduced.

In 17 Championship matches since 2013 Dublin haven't passed up an opportunity to deploy all six, or five as the case was in 2013 prior to the introduction of the black card. At one stage last season the bench was contributing in excess of one-fifth of Dublin scores.

Kevin McManamon has made quite a name for himself from his impact in many of the 19 Championship games that he has been introduced as sub, from the 31 that he has been involved in.

His goals against Kerry in 2011 and again in 2013 even prompted an enquiry last week to Eamonn Fitzmaurice as to whether they will have any special plans for McManamon when he comes into the action this weekend. Fitzmaurice replied with a firm yes.

McManamon may not entirely like it but he has become so conditioned to making an impact off the bench that it's viewed as such a Dublin strength now. In the 12 games that he has started he has scored 2-16, mostly against the lesser lights. In the games that he has been brought into the cumulative tally is slightly less, 4-9.

But all four goals have been in All-Ireland semi-finals (two against Mayo, one against Kerry) or a final (Kerry). Is there any more proof required?

As much as McManamon has got the vital scores, for general impact in turning a game their way Eoghan O'Gara's contribution against Mayo in the 2013 All-Ireland final matches anything, his introduction for the injured Paul Mannion early on eventually prompting a switch that took Keith Higgins out of attack.

O'Gara and Mannion are both missing now, while Cormac Costello's form and involvement have diminished.

But Dublin's reserves still look exceptionally strong and, as illustrated against Mayo the last day, highly effective.

There has also been quite a consistency to who has been deployed and when, another trademark of Gavin's tenancy. In 2013 you could set your clock by McManamon, Dean Rock, Bastick and later O'Gara joining the action at a particular stage.

Gavin has not tampered too much with team selection in this campaign, with 10 players starting all six games and 16 being involved at some stage.

Four more - Rory O'Carroll, James McCarthy, Denis Bastick and Cian O'Sullivan - have missed one match at some stage because of injury. So a core of 20 have put in most of the hours on the field.

Alan Brogan and Mick Fitzsimons have come on in every game. With Brian Fenton a constant at midfield, the support role has been shared by Michael Darragh Macauley or Bastick.

McManamon and Paddy Andrews have shared the floating role in attack, with McManamon having residency for the first three games before Andrews made his move.

If anything, though, Kerry's bench might even be that bit stronger. Their top three scorers from four previous Championship games, Bryan Sheehan, Paul Geaney and Barry John Keane, didn't start the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone.

That Kerry didn't even engage Tommy Walsh, who had been so effective against Kildare the previous day, against Tyrone said everything. Paul Galvin wasn't used either.

Fitzmaurice has shaken up starting personnel much more than Gavin, with 13 changes in four team selections compared to seven in five by Dublin.

Paul Geaney has twice been dropped but each time he has been re-introduced he had made it count. Darran O'Sullivan has also put his time to good use when he has got it.

For collective impact, Tyrone's bench for the 2008 All-Ireland final win over Kerry is arguably the high water mark, Kevin Hughes, Brian McGuigan and Owen Mulligan all putting significant shoulder power to their wheel.

But Sunday could see an escalation in bench warfare to new levels.

Irish Independent

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