O’Carroll and Connolly return for Dublin’s clash with Mayo

Jim Gavin able to call upon nine of his All-Ireland winning side for key league clash

Dublin manager Jim Gavin: will field a strong line-up for tonight’s league clash with Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Dublin manager Jim Gavin: will field a strong line-up for tonight’s league clash with Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 01:00

If the rugby season is starting to enter its last momentous strides in the weeks ahead, the GAA year is simply rounding the first bend but it’s undeniably picking up pace this weekend with signs of spring and what inevitably follows evident around the country.

The knockout stages of the hurling league are tomorrow, including that quintessential declaration that the game’s pulse is quickening: the clocks going forward and Cork and Tipp getting ready to do battle in Thurles.

This evening however around 20,000 spectators are expected in Croke Park, as the most important weekend of the GAA’s competitive season to date gets under way with the reacquaintance of Dublin and Mayo topping the bill in the penultimate series of the Allianz Football League regulation phase.

Having contested last September’s All-Ireland final, the counties meet on Jones’s Road for the fourth time in little more than 12 months.

The doldrums
Dublin defeated Mayo on the way to both league – twice – and championship last year in the divisional matches, semi-finals and final, respectively.

It’s been an eventful few weeks for the counties. At the start of the campaign Mayo were still in the doldrums whereas Dublin took up where they had left off, beating Kerry at Croke Park in an entertaining opening to the season.

Since then the fortunes of the counties have re-orientated slightly and the double All-Ireland and league winners have lost twice in the last three matches – having been beaten just once in last year’s league and championship.

Mayo have won their last three fixtures and the counties are evenly poised with only one likely to advance to the league semi-finals.

Unlike last year when Jim Gavin’s team looked on a mission from February onwards, Dublin have faltered. Although the team has rarely been anything better than half-strength throughout the competition, it doesn’t really matter why you don’t have momentum if you don’t have it.

For Dublin not to take their defence of the league title even to the semi-finals would be disappointing.

Encouragingly for the holders they are able to recall All Stars Rory O’Carroll at full back – for the first time this campaign – and Paul Flynn, who has played only one match to date, against Westmeath. Another All Star Bernard Brogan isn’t however expected to feature.

Diarmuid Connolly, whose five-star display in the club final as St Vincent’s shattered Castlebar, is also making his first appearance of the league. Overall Gavin is able to call on nine of last September’s All-Ireland winning team, the greatest number so far this season.

Not that this evening will be all about Dublin.

If there had been suspicions that Mayo were going to find it difficult to bend down and wearily reassemble their tools after two successive All-Ireland final defeats, they have been resolved so far and particularly in the manner they handed new kids on the block, Brian Cuthbert’s Cork, their first defeat of the year two weeks ago when the league leaders were dismantled in MacHale Park.

Manager James Horan stated at the outset of the season t Mayo would aim for the league and after a bumpy start they’re on target. If getting to the next stage were to mean that Dublin didn’t and as a result were to suffer a further loss of momentum, that would be all the better.

Finally it should be noted that were the GAA as grasping and calculating as some insist, there would have been a double-bill of the Dublin football and hurling teams. The county’s hurlers tossed with Waterford for home venue in their Division One A relegation play-off. Had they won they would have been playing as the curtain-raiser this evening. But the toss went – some might say unaccountably – wrong; the match goes ahead in Walsh Park tomorrow

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