The Dubs are back in town

THEIR performances this year may be more Dub Lite than what we are used to but there’s still plenty to relish about hosting the Dubs at any stage of any year.

Ballina it is to be again and I’m glad, TIALTNGO is a big fan of match atmosphere and five thousand people in the open surrounds of McHale Park does not a good atmosphere make.

THE PATH TO VICTORY: Mayo will hope that when they emerge from the tunnel in Ballina on Sunday, the result will be different than their opening round defeat against Derry at the venue.

THE PATH TO VICTORY: Mayo will hope that when they emerge from the tunnel in Ballina on Sunday, the result will be different than their opening round defeat against Derry at the venue.

But five thousand people in Ballina will come close to filling James Stephens Park and the home support should be able to crank up the noise a bit easier meaning this will be a much more advantageous home venue than Castlebar.

And we’ll need every bit of help because this is a big ‘un. A win virtually assures us of Division 1 status for next year while something similar applies for the Dubs, although they are a point further back than us.

And a win for us is something I confidently predict. Our performances have been gradually improving. From a near non-existant starting point against Derry in our first outing, we managed to look further into the abyss in the first half of the Donegal game but since then we’ve been ticking along nicely.

From half-time in Letterkenny to now we’ve scored 2-32 and conceded 0-23, even allowing for the defeat to Kerry. And while the inept display we saw first time out against Derry hasn’t been replaced by top-class football, we can be thankful that there has been a gradual improvement going into this game.

The Dubs on the other hand have been having something of a nightmare start under new chief Pat Gilroy. Their performance in the opening round slugfest against Tyrone certainly was a false dawn with Galway far too good for them in round 2 and Derry cruising home in round 4.

In between they got their solitary win over Donegal but that left as many questions as answers. A nine point lead was built up by the Dubs before Donegal stormed back to level. That they managed to go on and win despite Donegal’s charge does denote good character but little else can be taken and Gilroy is struggling to shape together anything approaching a regular fifteen.

The return of Kilmacud’s Paul Griffin, Mark Vaughan and Darren Magee will help but what will concern Gilroy is how few of his experiementations and new players have done the trick. Denis Bastick looks a lad too prone to rushes of blood to the head at full-back – a position Dublin have had so much problems solving. Much like us really.

BACK HOME: Ross McConnell has been one of the few Dublin players to play well this year, since returning to midfield from full-back.

BACK HOME: Ross McConnell has been one of the few Dublin players to play well this year, since returning to midfield from full-back.

Alan Hubbard in the corner is surely too small for inter-county football and while Ger Brennan at centre-half  back has plenty of ability, he is far too loose. Ross McConnell at least has offered a viable option at midfield beside Ciaran Whelan. And they’ll need that option because Shane Ryan certainly helped himself to a few selection boxes too many over the Christmas.

In attack Alan Brogan’s absence through injury reveals how dependent Dublin are on him. Bernard Brogan is a classy player who takes watching and while there’s no doubting the talent of Conal Keaney, the question hangs over him about his ability to deliver when it matters.

The same goes for Diarmuid Connolly while it remains to be seen if Mark Vaughan will return on Sunday. So while we’re a work in progress ourselves, at least John O’Mahony has the scaffolding up. Pat Gilroy is still applying for planning.

How will we line out? Well for the third week running we won’t know until Sunday, which is getting tiresome now. O’Mahony have vented his fury at the fixtures people over contributing to burnout with the Under 21 championship running concurrent to the NFL. Then he turns around and brings on an eighteen year old, Aidan O’Shea, who had played a full sixty minutes the day before for the Under 21s. Go work that one out.

O’Mahony will stress the importance of staying in Division 1 but surely the Under 21 champinship has to take priority for the six senior panellists underage? And this problem could be seen coming down the tracks – why therefore the delay in bringing back Messrs Nallen, Heaney and Aidan Higgins? Or at least draft in covering defenders. Poor planning if you ask TIALTNGO. Rant over.

Anyway we can speculate as to how we’ll line out. Clarke will be in goal, Liam O’Malley and Ger Cafferkey will be in the full-back line; Peadar Gardiner, Tom Cunniffe and Andy Moran in the half-back line. With Tom Parsons likely to be sidelined (hopefully with a Connacht final in mind), Ballina duo Harte and McGarrity should line out in midfield.

Trevor Mortimer seems to have secured the spot on the 40, with Alan Dillon outside him. Conor Mortimer will start at 13 and Austie, who did well in Kerry by most accounts, at 14. So that leaves a corner-back spot, a wing-forward spot and a corner-forward.

MR VERSAITILE: Shrule's Kieran Conroy did well at full-back last week but could be wing-forward on Sunday.

MR VERSAITILE: Shrule's Kieran Conroy did well at full-back last week but could be wing-forward on Sunday.

Chris Barrett, Kieran Conroy and Mark Ronaldson are probably at the top of the queue for these respective positions while Aidan Kilcoyne along with the under 21 crew will be on standby, I would say (that’s on the assumption that Barry Moran, Billy Padden, Barry Kelly and Seamus O’Shea are all still out injured, something not yet confirmed). It was great to hear Barrett was back in the Mayo colours on Sunday last. He’s a classy player but could suffer a similar fate to Colm Boyle last year and be shoe-horned into corner-back. Hopefully not.

 

Conroy was a fall guy last year, asked to play at full-back with little enough experience and we paid the price against Galway in the Connacht final but he has something to offer. He played well at full-back on Kieran Donaghy on Sunday (he does well against big men) but wing-forward could be his best spot and he may well get the chance to audition for that spot on Sunday.

CORNER MAN? After a couple of games on the wing, will Mark Ronaldson get a chance in his favourite corner-forward spot on Sunday?

CORNER MAN? After a couple of games on the wing, will Mark Ronaldson get a chance in his favourite corner-forward spot on Sunday?

Ronaldson played at wing-forward on Sunday as we lined out with a two man inside line (Conroy moving back as an extra defender) in Tralee but the corner is his best place and we might get to see him shine there on Sunday.

All in all though we’re much further down the line in terms of a settled team than the Dubs and if we keep playing the way we have been, the two points can be ours to take.

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