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Sunday 4 December 2016

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Dubs boss McGuirk insists that massive challenge awaits team against Westmeath

Dublin manager Johnny McGuirk is hopeful that his side can claim a provincial final berth when they face Westmeath in their Electric Ireland Leinster MHC semi-final in Cusack Park, Mullingar this Saturday afternoon (3.0).

The Lake County sprung the surprise of the championship when defeating Wexford in the quarter-final with the Dubs finishing strongly to take care of Offaly back in April.

However, McGuirk feels that next Saturday's opponents were more than worthy winners on the day and his side are well aware of the task that they face at the weekend.

"To be honest, I wasn't surprised at all with the result as we always thought that Westmeath were in with a great chance against Wexford," he said.

"We were very impressed with how they played that day and although many people felt that Wexford would prove too strong for Westmeath, we never thought that was the case when you assessed the merits of both teams.

"Westmeath have done some huge work at underage in recent years and they have made massive strides both at minor and senior level.

"Because of that, we are by no means going to think that we are going to have an easy game on Saturday and there is absolutely no way that the management or the players are going to take their challenge lightly," added the former Craobh Chiaráin star. Dublin's own well-being is hard to quantify given that their last competitive action was as far back as the last weekend in April when they eventually pulled clear of a stubborn Offaly challenge to claim a 2-17 to 0-13 victory in Parnell Park.

Given the relative inexperience of the team that day, it was encouraging to see some of the more youthful panellists driving home the side in the closing stages while the impact from the bench in the form of excellent cameos by Eoghan Conroy, Cian O'Sullivan and Ciarán Dowling helped to highlight to depth of talent inherent in McGuirk's squad.

However, Saturday will represent a championship away debut for many of McGuirk's panel and how they deal with that particular scenario will offer strong evidence as to Dublin's ambitions for the summer.

Despite their callowness in terms of championship fare, McGuirk is delighted with how his panel is showing in terms of their preparations for the weekend with the emphasis on the collective rather than particular individuals serving the team's prospects well.

"In fairness to the coaches we have available to us, the players are in great form and really looking forward to the game.

"They have all bought into the importance of doing it as a group and nobody is interested in who gets the scores as long as they go over the bar.

"Everyone is in good form and with the losers exiting the championship on Saturday, the lads are well aware of the importance of winning on Saturday and we can only do that if we do what we have been doing all year.

"The players want a long summer and are ambitious as a group and while we have a healthy respect for Westmeath, it is important that we focus on what we have to do and take it from there," said McGuirk.

Dublin's own inactivity is a slight concern as Saturday's clash will represent an eight-week gap since that success over Offaly and the need to hit the ground running, especially away from home will be vital to Dublin's chances of making their second successive Leinster Final and more importantly a place in the All-Ireland series.

The enforced break due to Leaving Certificate commitments is one of the particular challenges that embodies the minor championship but McGuirk is not too concerned as he assesses the prospects of his team in four days' time.

"To be fair, every team is affected by the Leaving Cert and we are no different in that we have 13 players who sat or are still sitting their exams at the moment.

"What is important from our perspective is that the lads are committed to playing hurling for Dublin and although we have respected their studies, we have kept their touch up to speed with individual sessions.

"The others have got games under their belt, either with challenge games with us or by playing with their clubs and everyone seems in good form at the moment.

"There is a serious competition for places around the squad at the moment and lads are pushing very hard to get into both the starting team and also the match-day panel.

"For a manager, that is great to see and when you have players putting their hands up like that, it might make selection more difficult but it definitely increases our options going forward.

commitment

"The commitment that all the lads have put in is very encouraging to see and is a huge help in terms of getting the players prepared for a match like this.

"They are an ambitious bunch who want to win things and they all have serious ability.

"We have 34 committed hurlers and some of the lads who were not involved against Offaly have really put themselves into contention for the next day.

"All the players want to do is improve as individuals and as a group and that is why Saturday's game is so important in terms of their development.

"We can't wait to get going to be honest and hopefully we'll get the right result if we focus on what we have to do," he concluded.

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