Seconds out, round two. After last Sunday’s rumbustious draw, never has boxing parlance been more appropriate. So what can we expect this evening? More of the same? Here are 10 pointers:
1. Ciarán Kilkenny may score more than one first-half point
Of the impressive 16 point tally the Castleknock man has clocked up in this year’s championship, all but two of them have come in the first half (0-2 v Longford, 0-4 v Kildare, 0-2 v Westmeath, 0-3 v Fermanagh, 0-3 v Mayo). The rule of thumb for cruciate injury victims is to judge them not on their comeback season but the one after that. But Kilkenny’s string of fine performances demand judgement now.
2. There may be a black card controversy
What’s new, says you, but as good a referee as Eddie Kinsella is he has had a few black cards overturned since the policy was introduced at the start of last year. Earlier this season, the Laois man showed a black card to Denis Bastick which was later overturned.
Kinsella had put in a good performance in the Monaghan-Tyrone Ulster quarter-final only to issue some dubious black cards in the last 10 minutes. Of the three shown in that period, Darren Hughes and Darren McCurry had their black cards thrown out.
3. Andy Moran is likely to make a difference
Last Sunday was just the latest occasion when Moran has arrived to shove a sword into Dublin’s side. It was his goal, when coming on a substitute, in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final that accelerated Mayo’s remarkable comeback. In the 2013 All-Ireland final, (although Mayo lost) it was Moran’s 50th minute goal which brought Mayo level. His cameo last Sunday, arriving into the fray in the 45th minute and ending up his team’s top scorer from play for two points, was another compelling contribution.
4. The final free count will likely read against Dublin
In the wake of that surreal game against Fermanagh when the free count was 22-4 against Dublin, Jim Gavin mentioned how acquainted his team have become to picking up fewer frees than opponents. It’s Gavin’s way of putting an onus on referees. Make of it what you will but Dublin have won 60 frees across their five championship matches compared to the 94 conceded. Just once against Westmeath have they been awarded more frees (v Longford 11 frees for, 16 against; v Kildare 11 for, 19 against; v Westmeath 13 for, 12 against; v Fermanagh 4 for, 22 against; v Mayo 21 for, 25 against).
5. A bust-up isn’t beyond the realms of possibility
Should Rory O’Carroll not be fit to start later today, Philly McMahon will almost certainly take up marking duties on Aidan O’Shea again. After O’Shea claimed he was head-butted by the Dublin defender, there are bound to be a few choice words between the pair at the outset never mind strong physical challenges. But just how agitated will Dublin be should Diarmuid Connolly not be available? It is a time for controlled aggression for Dublin but it’s understandable if they have perceived beef with O’Shea and Lee Keegan.
6. Mayo will push up... or else
Should Mayo isolate O’Shea in the full-forward line again, they can expect as paltry a return from the forwards. O’Shea needs a sidekick be that another towering presence like Barry Moran or Cillian O’Connor with somebody like Andy Moran moving in front of them. As Mayo captain Keith Higgins said after the game, Moran provided something different in the second half, showing “a bit deeper than the other boys”. Then there’s Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs, which have to be preyed on rather than watched.
7. Dublin’s No12 jersey to be retired for today
Connolly will have been named by Gavin in the Dublin panel released to the Central Competitions Control Committee early Thursday morning. At this time of writing, Dublin were preparing to object to this one-match ban. Assuming he has been unsuccessful, there will be no No12 jersey on a peg in the Dublin dressing room. If ever there is a rallying call for the rest of the Dublin players, that is it.
8. Micheál Collins will be ‘the Mayo manager’
The GAA found fault when Wexford hurling manager Liam Dunne wore the “maor foirne” top three years ago. Dunne had worn it so that he could enter the field to pass on messages to his players. However, for some reason they take no issue with Mayo’s habit this championship of selector Collins donning the “bainisteoir” polo shirt as co-manager Pat Holmes is happy to take a seat. Then again, his partner Noel Connelly, wearing the “maor foirne” jersey, can enter the pitch as he did prominently in the closing stages of last Sunday’s game.
9. There will be a half-time Dublin substitute
If you can make an art form of introducing a replacement at the interval, then Gavin owns the palette. Last Sunday, Dean Rock became the 12th player to be replaced at half-time across Gavin’s 16 championship matches as Dublin manager. Rock was the sixth player in this championship not to see the second half after Philly McMahon and Diarmuid Connolly (v Longford), Jonny Cooper (v Westmeath) and Kilkenny and Bastick (v Fermanagh).
10. There may be unwelcome tension in the stands
If Kinsella doesn’t have enough of a thankless job, he will also play a large part in keeping the peace beyond the pitch. Last Sunday, there were a number of anecdotal reports of rival supporters having heated words. With another packed house on the cards and tensions simmering during the week where claim was followed by counter claim, the need for cool heads both on and off the field is essential.
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