Thursday 20 June 2019

Roy Curtis: 'Dublin players face a potentially season-defining battle this Saturday - against each other'

Philly McMahon (centre) is one of a number of Dublin players looking to nail down a starting place this Saturday against Louth. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Philly McMahon (centre) is one of a number of Dublin players looking to nail down a starting place this Saturday against Louth. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

BECAUSE Louth are a longer shot than the sun declining to rise, Dublin’s summer of potentially historic purity launches with something less than Cape Canaveral pyrotechnics.

Yet, if Portlaoise might be slow to succumb to Saturday night fever, it won’t feel a remotely low-key night for Cormac Costello or Philly McMahon; nor for Darren Gavin, Michael Darragh Macauley or Rory O’Carroll.

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Dublin’s players face a hugely significant, potentially season-defining battle this Saturday: against each other.

Even with Diarmuid Connolly resisting the lure of a second coming, with four-time All Star Paul Flynn decommissioning his fatigues, still, there are far more exceptional footballers and burning ambition in the champions’ dressing-room than shirts numbered 1-15.

The competitive urges to make the kind of early season statement Jim Gavin will find difficult to ignore adds significant box-office punch to what is presumed to be a Portlaoise mis-match.

In declining to offer live TV coverage of the first steps of the drive for five, the networks choose to ignore some summer-shaping debates.

Can Philly, that tower of Ballymun defiance, roll back the years to rediscover his obdurate best after a 2018 when his old spiky dominance was not so easily located?

It is unclear if McMahon - at 31 hardly a candidate for the antique roadshow - will start; what is certain is that Dublin are better when he can summon the abrasive, in-your-face belligerence that was the peak-of-his-power calling card.

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Perhaps his outstanding asset is an undaunted mind-set, one that seems to reject the very concept of defeat.

McMahon’s proven ability to face down the powerhouse menace of Kieran Donaghy and Aidan O’Shea were in stark contrast to the Leinster giants’ occasional struggles under aerial assault during the recent league campaign.

Or might O’Carroll, unflappable in Dublin’s early years of dominance and now returned from New Zealand exile, be deployed as the surface to air missile to take out those opposing fighter planes?

Saturday would seem like an arena in which to road test such a theory.

And, as the Sky Blues set out in pursuit of a prize that would never fade from memory, what a defining time this is in the young and brilliant life of Cormac Costello.

Costello is a lavishly gifted game-changer, a forward of electrifying pace and predatory brilliance.

Yet his summer role has almost exclusvely been as a Millennial Kevin McManamon, a player to deliver a superior power-surge off the bench, as he did when sprung to fire three decisive late points that did for Mayo in the 2016 All-Ireland final replay.

Remarkably, a player of sometimes unanswerable talent, has started just two championship games since 2014. If that is a testament to Dublin’s depth of options, it also speaks of a frustrating run with injuries, notably to the Whitehall forward's hamstrings.

Costello was his team’s stand-out performer in the league, filling his Croke Park swag-bag with 2-10 in games against Mayo and Galway.

He has five All-Ireland medals to go with five NFL and six Leinster titles, yet seven weeks shy of his 25th birthday, the sense is that he is pursuing something more: the opportunity to seize the stage as the Dubs look to colour the late summer sky above Croke Park blue.

But which of Dublin’s sovereign front six from 2018 is ready to yield their grip on a starting shirt.  =Ciaran Kilkenny, Dean Rock, Paul Mannion, Con O’Callaghan, Brian Howard and Niall Scully are not the types to go quietly into the night.

This is why Costello is just one of many required to nail any audition time offered this weekend.

Perhaps Howard might be repositioned to a sweeping or midfield role, but, then, Darren Gavin – the rookie offered a rich harvest of game time in the league – or the animated, ball-of-fire veteran Macauley have voracious designs on the latter.

And that is before Brian Fenton and James McCarthy, twin giants with their seats in football’s hall of fame already booked, are factored into that complex midfield equation.

For McManamon, already a city immortal yet still ravenous for action, Eoghan O’Gara or Colm Basquel, early season game-time is the oxygen which can breathe life into their summer lungs.

On Saturday, a strong case can be made that their most ferocious opponents will be uniformed not in the red of Louth, but in Anna Livia blue.

So, even if Portlaoise will not succumb to the most virulent strain of Saturday night fever, and even if Louth are a number of competitive notches down, Dublin's competitive fury will hardly be turned down.

So long as McMahon and Costello and Macauley have a seat on the bus pulling into O’Moore Park, only a fool could deem this Leinster quarter-final anything close to a non-event.

How can it be when so many of football’s most stellar names are battling to secure one of so few seats in a potentially immortal September parliament?

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