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Peter Canavan: Damage limitation must be the Wicklow way against Dubs if they want some qualifier momentum

Analysis

Wicklow manager John Evans. Photo: Sportsfile
Wicklow manager John Evans. Photo: Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

All week, Wicklow manager John Evans will have pondered the conundrum he faces.

On Sunday, his side take on the three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions Dublin - a team they can't hold any realistic hope of beating. He acknowledged as much himself when he said that Dublin facing Wicklow in the championship is "like killing a fly with a sledgehammer".

So he knows what lies ahead and knows his job this weekend is different to their game with Offaly. Last time out they were looking for a way to win. This time their mission is to find a way to play the game that they can take something from it when the final whistle blows.

Dublin will be fitter, stronger, more organised and more battle-hardened from a successful league campaign. They'll also have more talent and a better bench to call on. All in all, it's a daunting task.

The good news for Evans is that Carlow showed 12 months ago it can be done. And we have seen how much progress they have made since.

Last year Carlow beat Wexford to get their summer up and running. That was their first win in Leinster since 2011 and, as such, it really meant something to that team and it gave them a shot at the Dubs.

Much like the Wicklow-Dublin game this Sunday, Carlow were complete outsiders that day.

But they showed up with a plan and were organised and made themselves hard to beat. It wasn't pretty but that wasn't the point.

At half-time, they were just three points down and had already outperformed expectations. They were competitive on the restart too but their challenge faded after Brendan Murphy was sent off.

Even though they lost by 12 points in the end, they did enough to retain respectability and give them something to build on.

They would go on to play three more games in the championship and made Monaghan's life difficult for long periods before finally bowing out. Carlow have since gone on to secure promotion for the first time in 33 years and also beat Louth in their championship opener. I've no doubt that the fact that they were competitive against the Dubs for a long period did wonders for them.

So Evans has to aim for something similar. He knows his team will lose but they have to try and lose in a way that doesn't kill the momentum the win over Offaly has generated. In certain circumstances there is way you can lose well.

Of course he can't just lift the Carlow template and apply it to his side.

Every dressing-room has its own strengths and weaknesses but in general terms, they'll have to pack their defence, be disciplined and avoid one-on-one situations as much as possible.

Carlow gave up the kick-out that day and Stephen Cluxton tipped it out to his corner-back all afternoon, but when Dublin went to attack they were met with ferocious but organised resistance.

Considering the gulf in class between the sides, they produced what was, to my mind, one of the performances of the summer.

The other option for Wicklow would to be brave and go man to man on the basis that if they are going to go down, they can go down swinging.

That would be the way Evans would generally send out his teams but I'm not sure that's the best route for them.

They're not going to get under Dublin's skin in the way Mayo can when they play that way.

They don't have the physicality or quality of player to go man on man. And if they go down that road, it wouldn't be hard to see Dublin dishing out a 20 or 30-point beating that would suddenly make the win over Offaly feel like a long time ago.

Turlough O'Brien and Stevie Poacher came out of Portlaoise last summer with credit and something to build on. Wicklow would dearly love to do the same.

On a side note it's interesting to see that Ciaran Branagan, the Down linesman who Diarmuid Connolly put his hands on, to his eventual cost, in the Carlow game last year, is the man in the middle on Sunday.

Dublin's situation couldn't be more different to Wicklow's. While it's possible that Wicklow could lose the game and still take something from it, Jim Gavin's men are on a hiding to nothing. If they win handsomely, they will get no credit for it and it will be asked what they learned from it.

After all, they are a team chasing four All-Ireland titles in a row playing against a side who didn't win a game in Division 4.

And, if the game goes the way of the Carlow match last year and sees Dublin frustrated for long periods, we'll be talking about whether cracks have emerged in their team and if their run is finally going to come to an end this summer.

All Gavin can hope for is to get the job done early and maybe see one or two more young players put their hands up for selection to the point where it would be hard for him to leave them off for the next game.

Irish Independent

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