Dubs step up as DCU Rock on
DUBLIN'S All-Ireland under-21 success of 2010 prompted a ripple of optimism in the capital that a new brand of quality footballer would quick-step into the senior setup and continue their successful habits therein.
It was mildly surprising then, that the Sam Maguire-winning squad of last September contained just two of that posse, defenders Rory O'Carroll and James McCarthy.
Yesterday, during DCU's 0-11 to 0-8 Sigerson Cup win over CIT, McCarthy and four more of Jim Gavin's 2010 side provided concrete evidence that that group had not merely faded into the Dublin footballing backdrop, and though they might have been slower to emerge than expected, they haven't simply gone away.
Dean Rock, the freetaker and marksman-in-chief of that Dublin U21 team, provided the bullets for DCU from centre-forward as they overcame the loss of Eoghan O'Gara to a late second yellow card, maintained their composure and finished off a doughy CIT outfit to set up a clash with DIT in the next round.
Further back, the in-form Johnny Cooper, who captained Dublin to only their second All-Ireland at under-21 level, continued his recent impressive run, marshalling the team expertly from centre-back with his customary calmness and smart use of the ball.
Eoin Culligan was solid and prickly at corner-back and while Gary Sweeney was replaced with a hamstring injury just after half-time, thus never getting the chance to utilise his pace and balance, the victory provides him |and the rest of the DCU brigade with another chance to showcase their talents in the Sigerson weekend in Galway at the start of March, starting with a quarter-final clash with DIT.
“Those lads have won All-Irelands at under-21 level and their time will come if they keep at it,” insisted DCU selector, Tony Diamond.
“They have a lot of enthusiasm for the game and they are good footballers.
“Sometimes they're the lads that will give you more because they're fresher and the senior inter-county lads are just worn out.”
Given the number of senior inter-county players dotted all over the DCU teamsheet and the fact that the match |took place just 48 hours after a full round of Allianz League fixtures, it was little wonder that the legs looked occasionally leaden.
But it's also a credit to the team that they finished so strongly despite |losing O'Gara in the 48th minute.
“They have the pedigree,” |reiterated DCU's manager, Niall Moyna. “And this is the place where you show it – at Sigerson level.
“It's pretty close to inter-county championship stuff so if you can do it out there, you're not too far away from inter-county senior football.”
In particular, Moyna was encouraged by the performance of Rock, who kicked six points (three frees) and the game-sealer from play late on.
There was, however, one mildly scary moment when full-back and captain, Kieran Gavin, attempted to fire the ball across his goal but miscued the effort and the ball cannoned out off the post.
“Sigerson football is always really tight,” Diamond explained. “There's never more than a couple of points in any of the matches.
“We got a couple of very important frees but we held our composure when we went a man down.”
However strong DCU's line-up was, equally impressive was the list of injured absentees. Donegal's Michael Murphy and Martin McElhinney look like missing the Sigerson Cup weekend while county seniors Cathal Cregg (Roscommon), David Kelly (Sligo) and John Coughlan (former Dublin minor and U21 who has played senior for Offaly) were all missing in action at the DCU Sportsgrounds yesterday.
In their stead, the likes of Paul Flynn (whose second-half point was a lesson in never giving up on a lost cause), Philly McMahon and Galway's towering under-21 All-Ireland winning-midfielder of last year, Fiontán Ó Curraoin, all picked took up the slack.
“We had a bit of luck,” admitted Moyna. “There is no doubt about that. But when we went down to 14 men, that's when we started to play football.”
Moyna has overseen both of DCU's Sigerson successes to date and by virtue of the quality of their panel, they will go into the competition proper as favourites. Judging by yesterday though, a DCU win may not be simply powered by those with years of |inter-county experience. And those on the senior margins are forcing the future to come a little faster.