Tuesday 15 January 2019

Catch-up is the game for Leinster

Dublin's Con O'Callaghan
Dublin's Con O'Callaghan

For those of you lulled into thinking Lakepoint Park is some exotic water tourism location, you obviously weren't present for Dublin's first two frozen expeditions into this year's EirGrid Leinster U21 football championship.

The meteorological gods have conspired against the Mullingar venue, especially for Dublin's quarter-final against Westmeath. It was still windy but not quite so wet and miserable for Wednesday night's semi-final against Longford.

But was there anything in the chill air to warm the rest of Leinster? Not really.

Dessie Farrell's fifth and final foray as Dublin U21 manager has brought him to a fourth consecutive Leinster final, against Offaly in Portlaoise next Wednesday. Win and they'll have completed four-in-a-row. And win they are expected to do: Paddy Power have them priced at 1/7.


Is there anything unusual about all this? No. This may not qualify as the most star-studded Sky Blue U21 collective in history, true ... but they're going about their business in a quietly efficient manner that underlines the gulf that still lies between Dublin football and the rest of Leinster.

Consider this: who are Dublin's two chief rivals in Leinster? Meath and Kildare.

What happened Meath U21s? They were pipped by Westmeath who then lost to Dublin by 14 points.

And what happened Kildare U21s? They were ambushed by Longford who then lost to the Dubs by seven. A Dublin team that noticeably eased off late on; a team missing one of its two marquee forwards, the injured Colm Basquel.

The other main man - Con O'Callaghan - amassed 2-5, 2-2 from play, even though he has spent most of the past six months playing and training as a hurler.

Delve deeper and you'll discover some further evidence of Dublin's strength in depth, relative to their provincial pretenders.

Aaron Byrne was their destroyer-in-chief against Westmeath, shooting 2-3 from play. He was more subdued (and scoreless) against Longford ... but what happens? Chris Sallier, who didn't start the first day, steps up to score 0-3 from play while assisting O'Callaghan for another 1-1.

We've no doubt Farrell would love to sign off with the last ever All-Ireland U21 title, having landed 'just the one' (in 2014) during his first four years. It remains to be seen if this group is of that stellar standard, but it's hard to see them not retaining Leinster.

As for the bigger Leinster picture, there are hints (no more) that some recent under-achievers are starting to stir at senior level.

Kildare are top of Division 2 and odds-on to seal top-flight promotion. Meath, currently third, are playing catch-up but fixtures at home to Fermanagh and away to Clare offer a potential window of opportunity.

Louth are in the Division 3 promotion places, despite imploding in Armagh. Wexford are already promoted from Division 4; Westmeath will join them. But then you have Laois and Offaly mired at the foot of Division 3.

And is there any guarantee that either Kildare or Meath will sustain progress until when it really matters - against Dublin in Croker on a red-hot July afternoon?

Let's take a Lakepoint Park rain check.

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