Spillane: Prepare for a battle of the bosses at Croke Park on Sunday
Like students cramming for their final exams, Jim Gavin and Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have been burning the midnight oil ever since the final whistle sounded in the All-Ireland semi-final replay between Dublin and Mayo.
The decisions they arrive at will have a massive bearing on the outcome of Sunday’s eagerly-anticipated final showdown between Dublin and Kerry.
Essentially, the two key areas to be addressed are team selection and tactics. So, let’s examine Jim Gavin’s options.
A key decision could be taken out of his hands if Cian O’Sullivan’s hamstring injury rules him out of the game. John Small is the obvious replacement, though he’s unlikely to be as influential as O’Sullivan, who has perfected the role of sweeper this season.
The other big personnel decisions for Gavin is whether he starts Alan Brogan, Kevin McManamon and Michael Darragh Macauley, all of whom made such a telling impact when introduced in the replay.
My gut feeling is that only Macauley will start. His athleticism and pace will trouble the Kerry midfield much more than Denis Bastick’s physical presence, while McManamon and Brogan are more effective coming off the bench when opponents are tiring.
Paul Flynn has been poor this summer, but has to start in the hope that he will finally find that missing spark. Dean Rock doesn’t have the work rate or pace to make an impact in general play, but he is the side’s only specialist free taker. So there are lots of questions for Gavin to address.
Tactically Dublin have abandoned the gung-ho philosophy of 2014 which led to their downfall against Donegal. Defenders mostly stay in position and they protect that vital D area in front of Stephen Cluxton’s goal.
They were too defensive against Mayo in the drawn game, so getting the balance right will be the key for Dublin.
What makes their job more difficult, however, is that Kerry are not a predictable opponent.
They have used 26 players in this year’s championship. Just five – Brendan Kealy, Shane Enright, Jonathan Lyne, Killian Young and Mark ó Sé – have started all five games. No-one in the Kingdom is assured of their place.
Players are picked on the basis of their form in training and nobody outside the team management is privy to what happens behind closed doors at Fitzgerald Stadium.
Fitzmaurice’s big decision is whether to start team captain Kieran Donaghy or go with a man who brings more variety in Paul Geaney.
Johnny Buckley brings more to the team in terms of turnovers than Bryan Sheehan, but the latter’s accuracy from long-range frees could be vital.
The other issue is whether to restore Aidan O’Mahony to the defence.
Fitzmaurice is the master of getting his match-ups spot on. In last year’s All-Ireland final Paul Murphy and O’Mahony effectively neutralised Donegal’s two key players, Ryan McHugh and Michael Murphy.
In the semi-final he identified Tyrone’s Peter Harte, Sean Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly and Jonathan Lyne, Peter Crowley and David Moran dealt with them.
Dublin’s three key players are Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly and Jack McCaffrey and they will have designated man-markers.
Don’t expect Kerry to be predictable. Fitzmaurice will have studied countless hours of DVDs and I expect to see a few variations in the Kerry game plan.
One Kerry tactic, though, is predictable. They will push up on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs because they know that if they upset them they will upset the Dubs.