BLUES EAGER FOR ACTION
DUBLIN U21 HURLERS
Dublin manager Joe Fortune is expecting a massive challenge from Kilkenny when his side begin their Bord Gáis Leinster U21HC campaign in Parnell Park next Tuesday evening in Parnell Park (7.30).
The Dubs may have the benefit of home advantage but Fortune believes that despite the absence of so-called 'star names', Kilkenny will present a formidable challenge to Dublin's hopes of regaining their provincial title last won in 2011.
"I think that any time that you come up against a county that are the current All-Ireland senior and minor holders, then you know that their challenge has to be respected.
"They may not have the household names of previous years but they have been going very well in challenge matches and the fact that so few of them are involved with the seniors, it means that they have been able to train together without too much distraction and that can only add to the unity of the group.
"We expect a serious battle from them and we will need to hit the ground running and get off to a decent start," said Fortune.
Despite Dublin enjoying a positive build-up themselves, Fortune has been inconvenienced by an injury to Kilmacud Crokes' Caolan Conway.
Conway suffered a hamstring complaint playing for his club against Parnell's in the Dublin SHC and after been withdrawn after just five minutes, the attacker is expected to be out for the next four weeks.
"Caolan being out is a massive loss for us as he was going very well in training and he was one of our most consistent performers last year.
"The lads in the panel know that it's a loss but from a positive perspective, we are determined to get through the Kilkenny match so that he can play a part in the championship later on in the year. It has also created a healthy degree of competition within the panel for his place and lads are fighting tooth and nail to get on the team, which is something that a manager is delighted to see from his players," said Fortune.
Having watched a large number of the panel in club championship action, Fortune has been impressed with what he has witnessed.
Conway's injury notwithstanding, most of his panellists have shown well for their respective clubs before returning to Dublin training in rude health.
"We have all been out at a lot of the matches and I'd be very happy with the standard that the lads have played at.
"They all seemed in very good form and they are playing well with their clubs so that offers encouragement to us in terms of their standing ahead of the Kilkenny game.
"I thought it was noticeable that a lot of the under-21 and senior players were in excellent form for their clubs and I suppose that reflects well on the training been done at intercounty level in Dublin," added the Wexford native. With Dublin's seniors playing Galway on Sunday, Fortune will naturally be hoping that players such as Cian O'Callaghan and Colm Cronin come through unscathed with the Kilkenny match coming just two days later.
"Of course, we're just hoping that the lads come through without too much difficulty and that they're in the best shape possible after the Galway match.
"We are really looking forward to getting out there and testing ourselves.
"It has been a really long build-up in some ways and to be honest with you, I'd love it if the game was on tomorrow.
"We are ready to go out there and put in a positive performance and we are in a very positive frame of mind at the moment.
"Having the game in Parnell Park is great but it would be fabulous to see a large Dublin support there on the night to create a massive Dublin atmosphere. The players would really appreciate that," he concluded.