Latest from the medics and management…Two changes in the Dublin side see Cian O’Sullivan restored to the defence in the half-back line at the expense of Ger Brennan while Michael Darragh MacAuley comes into the attack in place of the suspended Diarmuid Connolly.
DUBLIN SF: Stephen Cluxton (Parnells); Michael Fitzsimons (Cuala), Rory O’Carroll (Kilmacud Crokes), Philly McMahon (Ballymun Kickhams); James McCarthy (Ballymun Kickhams), Kevin Nolan (Kilmacud Crokes), Cian O’Sullivan (Kilmacud Crokes); Eamon Fennell (St Vincent’s), Denis Bastick (Templeogue Synge Street); Paul Flynn (Fingallians), Alan Brogan (St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh), Bryan Cullen (Skerries Harps); Bernard Brogan (St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh), Michael Darragh MacAuley (Ballyboden St Enda’s), Kevin McManamon (St Jude’s).
Meath have made two changes to their starting side with Kevin Reilly into the team at full-back and Stephen Bray named at left corner-forward. Ciaran Lenehan and Cian Ward are the two players to make way.
MEATH SF: David Gallagher (St.Peter’s, Dunboyne); Donal Keogan (Rathkenny), Kevin Reilly (Navan O’Mahonys), Mickey Burke (Longwood); Donnacha Tobin (Blackhall Gaels), Shane McAnarney (Clann na nGael), Brian Menton (Donaghmore/Ashbourne); Conor Gillespie (Summerhill), Brian Meade (Rathkenny); Alan Forde (Navan O’Mahonys), Damien Carroll (Ballinabrackey), Graham Reilly (St.Colmcilles); Brian Farrell (Nobber), Joe Sheridan (Seneschalstown), Stephen Bray (Navan O’Mahony’s).
Checking the odds…Dublin are 1/3 favorites to retain their crown with Meath priced at 3/1 to spring a surprise. The handicap has Dublin (-3) at evens.
Clues from the form guide…Dublin have two championships wins under their belt after a ruthless destruction of Louth in the opening round and then enduring their now customary difficulties against Wexford before prevailing. The league had been defined by a worrying lack of intensity in some games like their defeats to Down and Mayo but they appears to have addressed that situation. The manner of their win over Wexford illustrated how much the All-Ireland champions have developed over the past couple of years, refusing to adopt a panic mode when they trailed on the scoreboard and in the personnel stages, and being rewarded with a victory.
As for Meath, their semi-final win over Kildare was extraordinary simply because of what had gone before. The league was a disaster as they dropped down to Division 3 after a torrid defeat to Louth. They looked unconvincing in defeating Wicklow and drawing Carlow. But there were better signs when they got the better of Carlow in the replay and that was the precursor to a victory over Meath that featured some resolute defending, flamboyant attacking and a plethora of young players announcing themselves on the senior stage in sparkling fashion.
The game breakers are…Dublin’s success over Wexford was founded on the ability of players like Kevin Nolan in defence and Kevin McManamon in attack to step up their individual performances. McManamon has become a vital cog in the Dublin wheel and along with Bernard Brogan, who will be motivated to perform after an ineffective outing against Wexford, they form a potent duo for Meath to watch up front. Expect Michael Darargh MacAuley to come out the field and assist their midfield in an effective fashion, Cian O’Sullivan to add pace and energy to the defence, and Alan Brogan maintain his status as the chief creator in attack.
The key question for Meath is whether they can replicate the high standards they set against Kildare, both in terms of frustrating their opponents key assets and extracting stellar displays from their young guns once more. Dublin will be mindful of the excellent qualities that Donncha Tobin, Conor Gillespie, Damien Carroll and Alan Forde bring to the table. The experienced Meath figures are important with Kevin Reilly back to significantly anchor the defence while a full-forward line of Brian Farrell, Joe Sheridan and Stephen Bray has a dangerous look to it if serviced properly.
Gazing into the crystal ball…Meath’s performance against Kildare was the standout team showing of the summer to date, largely because it was so unexpected Seamus McEnaney’s side could fuse their individual talents into such a brilliant collective output. The pressure stakes have now been enhanced though with a bigger crowd, a bigger stage and opponents who will be more aware of the threats they pose. How they adapt to the occasion will be important. But Dublin look to be further down the road in their development stage and are a more seasoned out. The team and certain individuals were below-par against Wexford for stages and there is an expectancy that they will improve their display significantly here. Achieve that and a Leinster title should be the property of Pat Gilroy’s men tomorrow evening.