I'm not punishing my defence with clear-out: Gilroy
AS DUBLIN'S Spring Series climaxes with tonight's big football clash with All-Ireland finalists Down, manager Pat Gilroy has denied taking the axe to his defence as punishment for their performance against Mayo.
Four of the five changes for tonight's match at Croke Park are in defence. Stephen Cluxton, Philip McMahon and Kevin Nolan return, Nicky Devereux makes his league debut and Paul Brogan moves to full-back to replace Sean Murray.
But Gilroy insisted yesterday that the Dubs' big defensive clear-out was just a matter of course as he needed to give some returning players game-time.
"We've probably had just six defenders to pick from before but this time we had 10 and we've gone with fellas that we haven't seen so far," he said.
"We'd hope our defence would improve but I wouldn't have any worries now about players like Sean Murray, Darren Daly, Alan Hubbard, Paul Casey or Declan Lally. All of them have played well in a lot of the league games. Certainly some of them had blips the last day, but it's not the reason they're not playing.
"Most of the changes are down to the fact that fellas are back and we need to give them games, it was the same with Bryan Cullen as well," he said of the Skerries star's return to start at the expense of Michael Darragh Macauley. Cullen starts at wing-forward, allowing Barry Cahill switch back to partner Denis Bastick in midfield.
The notable newcomer tonight is Devereux, an U-21 wing-back star whose long-awaited debut at corner-back comes just two months after he was hit by a car in a career-threatening accident.
Surprisingly, Bernard Brogan has not been included in the starting line-up. He missed the win over Mayo after encountering travel delays while returning from a visit to the White House and Gilroy said it would be hard to adjust an attack that scored 4-15 last time out, adding: "We've seen plenty of Bernard as well."
There is no doubt that defence is what Dublin have been concentrating on since conceding 3-13 in their last game.
A draw tonight would be enough to earn them a place in their first league final since 1999, but Gilroy indicated that they won't be satisfied with that.
"We want to try and win every game and improve the way we're playing," he said. "The big thing this week is we can't go through a period where we just completely switch off because, against Down, the damage will be terminal.
"It's fairly obvious our rate of concession is just ridiculous," he said of Dublin's remarkable five-game unbeaten run in which they've scored 12-63 but conceded 6-64, including 3-9 to Mayo in one 18-minute period.
"If you look at where all their scores came from, there were full-backs and half-backs running through which gave our defenders no chance.
"We know that our defence has to start from fellas being tracked out the field and if we don't do that against Down they'll really punish us."
On Down's first return to Croker since the All-Ireland final he predicts a real battle with "the most improved team in the country in the last 18 months".
Dublin are still rotating their captaincy and Gilroy said yesterday they will not appoint their permanent team captain until championship time, saying they are looking for leaders all over the pitch.