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Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny at Croke Park. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny at Croke Park. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny at Croke Park. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

IT'S a fairly ridiculous gap, in fairness ... 37 points.

LEINSTER U21 FC Q-FINAL

DUBLIN v LONGFORD

(Parnell Park, Tonight, 7.30)

One which had Kilkenny inflicted it on some poor middle-ranker in hurling (or, indeed, had it beaten into them by some other middle-ranker in football) might have prompted just a two-day media inquest from the respective county chairman about the direction its maimed were heading.

In Dublin, it spawned new calls for a split. Or more specifically, outside Dublin, it renewed calls for a split in Dublin.

Forget that Carlow only started to prepare a month previously, that they looked physically, mentally and tactically ill-prepared and that they struggled in the first place just to get numbers for training. That night was apparently fresh evidence that Dublin are heading for a period of dictatorship from which the rest of Leinster football will never recover.

Longford, we imagine, won't lie down tonight in Parnell Park.

In Longford, they have been talking about this U21 team for quite a while, no surprise given that the county won just their fourth Leinster minor title in 2010, when the majority of tonight's squad were involved.

Even since the start of this year, Eugene McCormack's men have been moving nicely. They beat Roscommon by 13 points in the first round of the Hastings Cup and then scuppered Cavan's bid to win that title for a third straight year, beating the Breffni men thanks to a late scoring haul of 1-4 without reply in the closing 10 minutes in a match which highlighted the superb long-rang free-taking of corner-forward Robbie Smyth.

PEDIGREE

Dublin, doubtless, have plenty of more recent pedigree too, yet the comically short odds on them retaining their All-Ireland (6/5 with one bookie) are hugely false.

Since the Carlow annihilation, Dessie Farrell's men have been beaten by both Cork and Kerry in challenge matches, both times fielding very strong teams, and Longford will be precisely the type and quality of challenge they need tonight.

Firstly, as Dessie Farrell said after the Carlow win, he expects them to play with a lot of men behind the ball and be highly organised on the counter-attack. Which, when you consider the individual scoring potential of the Dublin forward line, is probably the way to go anyway.

Farrell is blessed with forwards to select from like Ciarán Kilkenny, Paul Mannion, Adam Caffrey, Shane Carthy, Philly Ryan, Paul Maguire, Danny Byrne, Harry Dawson and Gavin Ivory (although he would, no doubt, love to have Cormac Costello available to choose from), all of whom can score prolifically if and when the opportunity arises. Despite the margin of Dublin's victory last time out their management have reshaped their team.

Glen Whelan impressed in the middle of the park against Carlow but has been replaced by Stephen Cunningham, the St Sylvester's man will partner Dublin senior panellist Emmett Ó Conaghaile with Shane Carthy now moving to centre-forward.

No doubt, Farrell would have preferred a less taxing Saturday evening for both Jack McCaffrey and Ciarán Kilkenny than they ended up having against Mayo in Croke Park last weekend, but both should be sharp tonight.

In total Farrell has made three changes to his starting line-up. Apart from the alteration at midfield Ross McGowan comes in at corner-back in place of his Kilmacud Crokes club-mate Michael Durcan, while Cunningham's inclusion means that seven of last year's All-Ireland winning minor team feature from the outset.

The remaining change is in the half-forward line where Paul Maguire, who recently won a Sigerson Cup with DIT, is chosen at wing-forward with Michael Gibbs the player to miss out on this occasion.

It will, in truth, be the first test of Dublin's armoury and as such, will reveal gaps and weaknesses as yet uncovered by Farrell but, all told, his team should win.

DUBLIN (U21FC v Longford): L Molloy; R McGowan, David Byrne, N McGovern; E Lowndes, C Mulally, J McCaffrey; S Cunningham, E Ó Conghaile; P Maguire, S Carthy, Danny Byrne; P Mannion, A Caffrey, C Kilkenny.

VERDICT: Dublin


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