Thursday 14 December 2017

Dublin and Mayo unchanged ahead of replay

Gaelic Games

Keith Higgins make his 125th appearance for Mayo in today's All-Ireland SFC final replay. Picture: Sportsfile
Keith Higgins make his 125th appearance for Mayo in today's All-Ireland SFC final replay. Picture: Sportsfile

Michael Verney and Martin Breheny

Both Stephen Rochford and Jim Gavin have kept the faith, naming unchanged teams for today's eagerly-awaited All-Ireland SFC final replay between reigning champions Dublin and underdogs Mayo at Croke Park (5.0).

However, doubts linger about whether Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn and Kevin McManamon will all start for the Dubs, after each delivered below-par performances two weeks ago - there could be changes before throw-in.

Defender Keith Higgins is set to make his 125th appearance for Mayo with the Sam Maguire showdown marking the dual star's 13th championship game of 2016, his ninth football outing combined with four games with the hurlers en route to Nicky Rackard Cup success.

Second only to Andy Moran in appearances, Higgins is one of Mayo's elder statesmen and the Ballyhaunis clubman will line out alongside team captain Cillian O'Connor, who retains the No 15 shirt despite twisting his ankle in the drawn final.

Alan Dillon's participation is still in doubt, however, after the veteran attacker suffered a bruised foot 13 days ago and was withdrawn just minutes after kicking a crucial second-half score off the bench.

Evan Regan, though, has recovered from concussion.

Mayo are aiming to bridge a 65-year gap to All-Ireland success and much of the focus will be on Maurice Deegan and his team of officials following attempts by both sides to put pressure on the Laois referee by highlighting alleged indiscretions made by the opposition.

The manner in which Lee Keegan has marked Diarmuid Connolly in their several battles over recent seasons has raised the ire of some former Dublin players, now working as pundits, while many in Mayo feel aggrieved with the 'unfair' treatment of their talisman Aidan O'Shea.

Deegan is one of the most experienced referees in the country and will be in charge of his third senior All-Ireland final; his last game in this year's championship was Kerry against Clare in the quarter-finals, where he issued one black card and five yellows.

Frustration over the black card has been rife this year, with managers complaining that is not being applied consistently; James McCarthy's black card dismissal by Cork referee Conor Lane in the first half of the drawn game annoyed Gavin, who alleged that similar fouls by some Mayo players were not punished in the same manner.

"We're just looking for consistency. That definitely wasn't out there today," Gavin said afterwards.

With the sides going hammer and tongs the pressure will be on Deegan, who has not yet refereed any Dublin or Mayo championship games this year.

Despite a spirited comeback in the drawn game after the concession of two own-goals, Mayo remain 9/4 outsiders as they attempt to crush Dublin's back-to-back All-Ireland aspirations and break their 28-game unbeaten run in league and championship.

Mayo (SF v Dublin) - D Clarke; B Harrison, D Vaughan, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan; S O'Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, D O'Connor; J Doherty, A Moran, C O'Connor.

Dublin (SF v Mayo) - S Cluxton; P McMahon, J Cooper, D Byrne, J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J Small, B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, K McManamon, C Kilkenny; D Rock, D Connolly, B Brogan.

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