Young Dubs show class and mettle
Dublin minors turn in battling display to earn Tipp ticket for All-Ireland semi in headquarters
THE Drumlins came into view. Those priceless pieces of Cavan Crystal.
The sign-post to Ballyjamesduff. 'Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right'.
Percy French never played for Dublin. But Jimmy Gray did.
And the Dublin GAA President was an early arrival to cheer on the minor hurlers last Saturday.
The County Chairman, Seán Shanley, was present too. In the Press Box, there was one simple request written everywhere - please refer to the stadium as Kingspan Breffni Park.
There were some old framed cuttings in the clubhouse. 1947 and the Polo Grounds topped the charts.
The Cavan turf looked good enough to stage the Dublin Horse Show.
It was a double bill. The footballers of Fermanagh and Westmeath were on after the hurling.
In between, there was an exhibition of rounders. A splendid spectacle.
Early on in the hurling, it looked like the young Dubs were going to win by a cricket score.
But Antrim recovered well to make a game of it.
In the end, it was Dublin 2-22; Antrim 2-11.
When it was all over, the Dublin boss, Johnny McGuirk, stood against the corridor wall.
With sliotar in hand, he went through many a wall in his time. They say he was made of Craobh concrete.
His good pal, 'Hedgo', was on the sideline with him. So were his management team, Paul O'Brien, Eoin Roche and Joe Cunningham.
Willie Bourke, Martin Rabbitte and Seamus Breslin were keeping an eye and taking the notes from the stand.
Seamus had played hurling for Cavan against Fermanagh at the venue.
The Sky cameras were in the house. Pauric Lodge too.
Orla Bannon was on the lap top. She adds much to RTé's Monday morning sports review on the Seán O'Rourke programme.
Johnny answered all the questions. He was content with the day's effort.
It's Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final on August 16 in Croke Park.
"We have seen Tipperary. They were very impressive in the Munster final," he said. "They had very good movement in their forward line. We will have to set the tempo high and keep it high."
Dublin certainly began briskly here. Their early harvest saw them leading by eight points.
"We have a lot of work to do. The lads are putting in a huge effort.
"We have 34 committed hurlers. They are like sponges. They want to learn.
"They are constantly looking for information to help them keep on improving.
"We'll keep at it and try to produce our best in three weeks time."
The Cavan climate presented a bright afternoon. No need for lights in the Electric All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship quarter-final.
Dublin were solid and sure. They put in an honest shift. And they took some elegant scores.
"We were good in parts, and not so good in other parts.
"But at the end of the day, it's a 20-man game. We have said that all year.
"We know we have good lads to come in, and all the subs did well.
"It was all about getting the result, and we were happy to get it," added Johnny.
The Dubs came within a whisker of beating the Cats in the Leinster final. "We felt we left it behind us. But we have moved on well since then. There's a good buzz in training.
"But we know that we will have to improve again the next day if we want to go a step further." Dublin led from pillar to post against Antrim last Saturday. There was speed in the legs, and in the hands. The first touch was velvet.
They were secure at the back. There was a good industry in the side - mirroring Johnny's own playing style.
They led at the interval, 2-11 to 1-8. The Maur's full-forward, Eoghan Conroy, got the first goal on eight minutes.
The opening was created by Carl Sammon. The Dubs were turning crumbs to bread.
It looked like being a long afternoon on the Glens.
But Antrim showed character. And that has always been the hallmark of such a proud hurling county.
Conor Small's goal on 17 minutes brought them right back into it. And a quick Ryan McKee point saw just them trailing by just two points.
But Dublin instantly replied with a Fergal Whitely goal, who was set up by Mark Maguire. Antrim duo, Conal Doherty-Cunning and Keelan Malloy scored two of the best points of the hour before the kit-kats.
Three minutes into the second period, Dublin's fine half-back, Eoin Foley, lofted over a peach of a point.
Antrim, though, kept on their heels. And a 42nd minute goal from Christy McNaughton left four points in it.
But Antrim were not to score again as Dublin hit seven points to reach harbour.
"Hurling is going well in Dublin. And we'll be doing everything to keep driving it on," stated Johnny.