Dublin selector Declan Darcy has admitted they face a testing week to select their All-Ireland final team but insisted they won’t be clouded by ‘nostalgia’ when making the big calls.
Kevin McManamon, who scored crucial goals as a sub against Kerry in both the 2011 final and 2013 semi-final wins, is pushing hard for a starting spot after another crucial goal from the bench against Mayo in the semi-final replay last Saturday week. Former Footballer of the Year Michael Darragh Macauley was influential as a substitute that day too while Alan Brogan is another pushing hard to start.
Stephen Stack, the former Kerry defender, has suggested that both camps must ultimately ‘pick two teams’ based on who they want to start the game and who they want on the pitch in the final 10 minutes when the game will be decided. The situation has become even more complex for Dublin because of the hamstring injury suffered by centre-back Cian O’Sullivan which threatens to disrupt their entire defence.
If O’Sullivan doesn’t make it, John Small or Michael Fitzsimons could come in with alterations potentially required in other areas of their defence as a result.
Darcy said the bottom line is that reputations and past performances won’t come into it when they sit down to pick a team in cool and clinical fashion.
“We will not be distracted by who it is, it will be the best 15 that we see fit to start against Kerry and who can do what they do best with regard to the match-ups,” said Darcy.
“We won’t be getting too involved in the emotion of it, or the nostalgia. It is just a game that needs to be won.
“It’s always a difficult team to pick in fairness, the 26 is tough enough to pick. Eamonn (Fitzmaurice) will have the same dilemma as well in Kerry. He has some wonderful players whom he will have to tell that they are not starting but the way the game has evolved, and it is like this in rugby as well, subs coming on have a huge part to play.
“They can be equally important to how a team performs, especially towards the end of the game. Kevin Mac has been hugely important to us down the years when introduced.
“It’s a really important part of the game and I know it’s hard for players to get their heads around that but it really is important, seeing out a victory.”
Kerry famously led by a point with two minutes to go in the 2013 semi-final only to leak 2-2 without reply in the closing period, two of those goals scored by subs.
“Certainly, the impact of our subs off the bench was huge that day,” said Darcy, the former Dublin and Leitrim forward. “This year, things have changed a little bit. Games aren’t as free-flowing.
“In 2013, everyone was going toe-to-toe with us and the games were free-flowing, now they are stagnating a little bit as more phases of play develop and strategies are utilised. It is more difficult to impact a game when it is tightly strung up like that. But the last day, against Mayo, the subs definitely impacted. We got it right the last day. We stuttered through other games to get that impact. But the last day, they were huge in the last 20 minutes.”
Kerry may be most concerned if Dublin use McManamon, a direct and speedy runner, as a sub again given his tremendous impacts over the years late in games.
“He is just that kind of player I would hate to see coming on if I was playing,” said Darcy. “He has a low centre of gravity and he has pace and an eye for goal. Obviously if you have been running around after some of the Dublin forwards and then you see him coming on for the last 20 minutes, you’ll be thinking, ‘Ah Jaysus’. Croke Park is not the place you want to see Kevin McManamon coming on.
“At the same time, I think Kevin could do as much damage in the first 15 minutes of the game as in the final 15 minutes.”
Darcy’s first experience of playing for Dublin against Kerry in the Championship was the memorable 2001 All-Ireland quarter-final, won by Kerry after a replay.
“Kerry really want to beat Dublin, always did and Dublin always want to beat Kerry,” Darcy said. “It just has that edgy kind of feel to it, that’s what I really noticed.
“It’s nothing like any other game. I played against Meath in Leinster finals and stuff but this is different. It is definitely different, you just get that sense.”
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