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Saturday 10 December 2016

A long way from Croker rout ...

Don't expect a turkey shoot repeat of last May - but Dublin still hold too many aces

Shane Carthy, Dublin, in action against Shane Doyle, Wexford. Bord na Mona O'Byrne Cup,
Shane Carthy, Dublin, in action against Shane Doyle, Wexford. Bord na Mona O'Byrne Cup,
Con O’Callaghan has both been in top form for Dublin Photo: Sportsfile

Over seven months have passed since Longford ventured into the lion's den and suffered the football equivalent of death by mutilation: a 27-point rout. Twenty-seven!

Tomorrow comes the rematch. The good news for Longford? It won't be 27 points this time, we're sure.

Why? Well, they won't be tackling the same merciless Dublin in this Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup semi-final. They won't be facing them in Croke Park either - or in the same pristine summer conditions.

All of which should ensure a closer affair - maybe even a genuine contest - in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park (2.0).

It's not just Dublin who'll be different, as Jim Gavin runs his gimlet eye over the latest batch of Sky Blue wannabes auditioning for a place among the big boys.

Longford, too, aren't the same team that gained promotion from Division Four last spring, then ambushed Offaly in Leinster, only to endure the booby prize of a date with the Dubs, to be crushed 4-25 to 0-10.

That day Jack Sheedy refused to park the bus, and afterwards explained that he doesn't believe in the blanket defence strategy because it's "horrible to watch" but also because Longford "don't have the physical resources to do that".

Maybe so, but there was no shortage of Longford bodies flooding their defence - against Westmeath ten days ago - as they battled the elements while trying to protect a ten-point half-time lead.

They are, of course, under new management this season - Denis Connerton is back for his second stint in the hotseat.

Ultimately their backs-to-the wall tactics failed against Westmeath … but a second group win over Wicklow, coupled with Westmeath's narrow defeat to Maynooth, conspired to deliver an unlikely early-season boost for Longford.

"It's a game we didn't expect," Connerton told The Herald. "Our aim for this season is to stay in Division Three. When we sat down to do our objectives for the year, at no stage was one of them to win the O'Byrne Cup.

"But now that we're in the semi-final against the Dubs, it's that extra bonus match. You couldn't get a better one."

Jim Gavin was equally sanguine about the benefits of another run-out after his mix of old heads and young rookies leapfrogged DCU last Sunday. The Dublin boss was not inclined to namecheck any individual aspirants who impressed him against DCU. That's not his way.

The Herald, though, couldn't help but be impressed by St Vincent's wing-forward Shane Carthy and Cuala young gun Con O'Callaghan.

Positive

Carthy landed two points but his all-round contribution, in all three O'Byrne Cup group outings, has been consistently positive. O'Callaghan's 1-2 against DCU was the width of a bar away from being 2-1.

That said, O'Callaghan faces oodles of competition if he's to establish himself as a Sky Blue contender beyond this month.

There's a very long queue of inside forwards - led, of course, by the currently rested Bernard Brogan. Paddy Andrews has started all three matches to date, his sharpness bordering on the unseasonal.

Another ever-present is Cormac Costello, who looks determined to reverse last year's pecking order slide in 2016. Thus, he followed up his 2-6 haul in the cakewalk victory over IT Carlow with three points from play against DCU.

As for tomorrow, even an understrength Dublin must be favourites. But it may not be another turkey shoot.

Heavier pitches inevitably reduce the scoring rate while Connerton, despite the myriad players who couldn't sign up this year, retains a hard core keen to atone for last May. So if this ends in a single-digit defeat, don't be surprised.

Odds: Longford 7/2 Draw 9/1 Dub 1/4

Verdict: Dublin

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