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Saturday 25 March 2017

Dubs' talent pool won't come as a shock to McEntee

Ciarán Reddin. Pic: Sportsfile
Ciarán Reddin. Pic: Sportsfile

The Christmas decorations are barely boxed away and already the 2017 Leinster SFC has been written off as a lame duck morphing into a moribund mallard.

"I'm really concerned that the gap is going to grow to such an extent that Dublin won't get a game until they get to the All-Ireland quarter-final, and that could come back to haunt them," predicted Niall Moyna, after watching his DCU charges succumb by seven points to a shadow Dublin outfit in last Sunday's O'Byrne Cup opener at Parnell Park.

If this column were a cynic - perish the thought - we might retort that Moyna's prediction about Leinster non-events came to pass several years back. But his fears are worthy of more forensic analysis, especially given the context.

Wannabe

It's true that DCU were missing most of their marquee stars on Sunday - namely Mayo duo Patrick Durcan and Diarmuid O'Connor, Tipp's Steven O'Brien and a trio of Rossies. Ergo, don't read too deeply into the scoreline.

Yet Moyna's remark was predicated on the actual strength of Dublin's wannabe line-up.

Jim Gavin wasn't there - nor any of the 26 players who made his All-Ireland replay match-day squad. While most of the senior panel were holidaying in the Caribbean, a coterie of fellow county men from St Vincent's are immersed in preparations for their All-Ireland club SFC semi-final against Slaughtneil.

Straight away, that's well over 30 players unavailable to Dublin's January general, Paul Clarke. Then factor in another clutch of contenders playing for their college over the weekend - including Jack McCaffrey.

Yet despite all these absentees, Clarke's first 15 against DCU included seven players who had started in a winning All-Ireland U21 final (Gary Sweeney in 2010 and 2012, Ciarán Reddin and Paul Hudson in '12, Ross McGowan, Niall Scully, Shane Boland and Conor McHugh in '14) plus another (Niall Walsh in 2014) who came off the bench.

Another duo who featured as subs in that '14 final against Roscommon - Gavin Ivory and Shane Cunningham - appeared in the second half against DCU.

So too did Robbie Gaughan, another with serious underage pedigree dating back to Dublin's All-Ireland minor triumph in 2012. McGowan, Scully, Walsh and McHugh were fellow starters against the Meath minors that day.

Through his long-standing involvement with DCU, Monaghan native Moyna has his finger on the pulse of higher education football - one of the best available barometers of a county's medium-term prospects.

On Sunday he cited Kildare and Meath as the two most likely bastions of resistance in the east. Cian O'Neill will be hoping for more sustainable signs of progress in year two with Kildare, whose recent underage track record (three of the last four Leinster minor titles) hints at a possible senior revival.

Restorative

But, perhaps understandably, most eyes will be on Navan to measure the restorative Royal powers of Andy McEntee and his impressive looking backroom team (including a certain famous brother, Gerry).

McEntee is acutely aware of Dublin's deep talent pool, having bucked the odds to lead Ballyboden to a surprise county title in 2015 - and then all the way to last year's All-Ireland summit. Andy was also, of course, Meath minor boss when they lost to Dessie Farrell's Dub cubs in 2012.

Last Sunday's 19-point walloping of Wicklow was a promising early portent - nothing more. Andy knows, better than most, where the ultimate test lies.

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