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Dubs step into the unknown

All-Ireland U20 FC Semi: Dublin v Tyrone, Live TG4 (Tomorrow, 2pm)

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Dublin’s Ciarán Archer in action against Barry Howlin of Laois during the EirGrid Leinster U20 Football Championship at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow last March. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin’s Ciarán Archer in action against Barry Howlin of Laois during the EirGrid Leinster U20 Football Championship at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow last March. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin’s Ciarán Archer in action against Barry Howlin of Laois during the EirGrid Leinster U20 Football Championship at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow last March. Photo: Sportsfile

It seems like an eternity since their Leinster final success back in early March but Dublin can finally look forward to competitive action again when they meet Tyrone in their Eirgrid All-Ireland Under 20 Football Championship semi-final at Kingspan Breffni Park tomorrow afternoon (2.00).

The fixture was originally scheduled for Croke Park on St Patrick's Day but seven long months of restrictions caused by the Covid 19 pandemic prompted cancellations that threatened the conclusion of this year's renewal.

Thankfully, a window of opportunity has opened up, wide enough to allow the four provincial champions the chance to realise their national ambitions with Dublin manager Tom Gray suitably pleased at this positive development.

"Of course, it hasn't been the ideal circumstances for the competition to be played but there is very little that we could do about that.

"The positive thing from our perspective is that we have a competitive match and we are all really looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead of us.

"We are in a unique situation at the minute in that it's essentially a new competition and there's no real relevant form line in terms of the four teams left in the championship.

"We are not at a disadvantage in that respect as it's the same from all four teams and it's all about getting the heads down and preparing as best we can for Tyrone next weekend.

"Of course, there have been some issues with the panel in terms of player availability at training, with some having to step down for a period as a precautionary measure due to potential contact but thankfully, the disruption has been minimal enough," added the Na Fianna clubman.

Dublin's form prior to lockdown was particularly encouraging as they swept through Leinster with Wicklow, Longford, Meath and Laois brushed aside with varying degrees of ease.

That Leinster final victory over Laois (0-18 to 0-8) was especially impressive as the Dubs dominated matters from the outset, with the final winning margin hardly doing justice to their control on the night.

Ciaran Archer and Kieran McKeon did the bulk of the damage up front on that occasion, kicking seven points and four points respectively with influential defenders Lee Gannon and Rory Dwyer sharing three points on the night.

Regaining momentum from that positive provincial campaign will prove next to impossible, given the length of time between fixtures, but Gray is hopeful that his relatively inexperienced panel can benefit from the encouragement of earlier in the year.

"We really don't know what form we are in but I've been happy with what I've seen from the lads at training.

"We have quite a young panel, with a large number of those eligible for next year. So for many, winning Leinster earlier this year should have done wonders for their confidence.

"You could see them develop and grow in confidence with every victory this spring and they became more accustomed to what was required from them and the panel made great progress at that time.

"Time will tell if they can maintain that rate of progression, starting with this game, but it's a vital game in terms of their development, irrespective of the result.

"Of course, we want to do well in the competition and progress as far as we can in the championship and we are hopeful that we can take another positive step towards achieving that objective on Saturday.

"We are also focussed on developing players for the future and this test against Tyrone will help towards that.

"They (Tyrone) have a very strong panel, with many players involved from last year, when they were terribly unfortunate not to beat Cork in the semi-final, a match that they let slip from their grasp in the closing stages.

"They won the Under 17 All-Ireland equivalent three years ago and their panel is largely made of up of players from then and they came through a tough Ulster Championship this year very impressively.

"We are under no illusions as to the task in hand and we face a big challenge. But all that we can do is focus on ourselves and ensure that we play as close to our potential as possible.

"The players have prepared well but we are taking a bit of a step into the unknown in terms of our ability to get to the pace of the game as soon as we possibly can.

"That question will be answered on Saturday afternoon and while a strong start is important, we'll be looking for a more consistent showing for the full sixty minutes.

"If we do that, then hopefully the result will take care of itself," added Gray.