Tuesday 20 February 2018

Gilroy to start with unchanged team for first time in six games

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

SHOCK horror, hold the back page! Dublin will start with the same team that opened against Armagh last week for today's all-or-nothing battle with Louth in the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers.

That their retention of the same 15 players -- albeit with a few positional switches -- is such a novelty, gives some indication of the seismic shifts that have occurred in the Dubs' form and confidence this summer.

Manager Pat Gilroy attributed this sudden outbreak of settled selection yesterday to their emptiest sick-bay yet.

Some of their bench did well last week, but the men they replaced were only pulled because they were tired, not playing badly, he stressed.

Barring first-choice full-back Ross O'Carroll -- who could yet make today's bench against Louth after a late fitness test -- this was the starting team Dublin wanted, Gilroy declared.

Many still wonder why it took them so long to figure that out.

Their midfield, like the centre-back spot, was disrupted by Eamon Fennell's injury, but otherwise there has been a shocking amount of deckchair moving in Dublin's four-game championship odyssey to date, particularly in the half-backs and half-forwards, and all to what end?

At Gilroy's shoulder during yesterday's press conference was team captain David Henry (right).

The former county corner-back started the summer at wing-forward, got dropped, was recalled at wing-back, moved up to half-forward last week and today starts at corner-forward in a positional switch with Alan Brogan.

Gilroy stressed yesterday that Henry is a regular scorer for his club and feels he can up Dublin's scoring rate, yet everyone expects Henry to be largely employed much deeper than top of the left.

Defence remains at the heart of this week's repeat selection with Gilroy making no secret that the concession of just 11 points to Armagh last weekend largely prompted it.

It is certainly a vote of confidence in their latest half-back combo of Kevin Nolan, Ger Brennan and Barry Cahill, because, even though Dublin conceded five goals to Meath and 1-13 to Tipp they, remarkably, never once changed their full-back line, indicating they felt the blame lay on the '40.

But what of their stop-start attack?

Take away Bernard Brogan and the 2010 Dublin model often has less front than a Page 3 girl minus her boob job.

After the Meath debacle, their forwards bounced back with 1-21 and a decent spread of scoring against Tipperary.

But against Armagh last week, who Gilroy admitted yesterday are not exactly a top-tier team, Brogan scored 0-9 (0-4f) of their 0-14. Five others scored just a point each and one was from a '45' by Stephen Cluxton.

Be patient, we're working on it, it'll happen, Giller keeps saying. "Feck that, bring back Whelo!" the sceptics roar. "Or Jayo or Shane Ryan!"

Against Wexford they had to turn to the old-school players like Bryan Cullen and Mossy Quinn to save them, so wasn't Gilroy even a teensy bit tempted, in the past week, to dip into the county hurling squad where some classy footballers like Dotsy O'Callaghan and Ryan now find themselves with too much leisure time?

Nope, he insisted. "We're not thinking beyond this group. We've an awful lot of options when you consider the guys who are not playing, so that's nothing we've thought about and I don't think we will in the next couple of weeks."

Gilroy remained adamant yesterday that through all their crises he has never contemplated recalling any former heroes.

"Maybe there was a lot of hassle coming on us from outside the group, but the atmosphere and the togetherness that was here was very good," he insisted.


"We always felt that when you're putting seven new guys into the championship you have to be patient and trust in them and last weekend they paid that back in dividends.

"They're giving away a lot less goal chances now. Bernard Brogan may be dominating the scoring, but others are making many of them for him and while they're still only scoring half of about 30 chances a game, they are capable of improving that if they click," Gilroy argues.

But now comes their toughest prospect in weeks -- a Louth team with, arguably, the top midfield in the country and a serious score to settle at HQ.

"We're under no illusions. They've been the most consistent team in Leinster and effectively beat a team (Meath) who beat us by 11 points," Gilroy conceded of the Wee County's controversial defeat in the Leinster final.

"Their midfield are not only able to dominate in the air, they're well able to kick scores as well," Henry noted. "So, they will have to be watched."

He recalls playing Louth twice before in the championship, but pointed out that today's opponents are a completely different prospect.

"This Louth team looks a much fresher side and one that's just enjoying their football, playing off the cuff and just expressing themselves," Henry said, without a trace of irony.

Exactly the sort of thing we used to say about the Dubs.

Irish Independent

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