Saturday 16 December 2017

Farrell's cubs can prevail if they curb the defensive blues

Robbie Gaughan, Dublin, in action against Conor Hogan, Laois.
Robbie Gaughan, Dublin, in action against Conor Hogan, Laois.
Robbie Gaughan, Dublin, in action against Patrick O'Sullivan, left, and Alan Farrell, Laois.



(Pc Tailteann Navan, Tonight 7.30)

KILLIAN O'GARA has scored 2-5 from play in Dublin's two Leinster U21 outings. To lose such a player on the cusp of a final would be greeted, in some counties, as a potentially lethal blow.

Who can possibly take his place?

In the capital, they have Cormac Costello.

This opening preamble is not meant as a metaphor for the emergence of a new Dublin dynasty - one that will lay waste to all pretenders over the next decade.

After all, Costello would - presumably - have started the recent semi-final against Longford but for illness.

However, the recall of a player who has already completed the clean sweep of All-Ireland minor, U21 and senior medals underlines that Dessie Farrell has more options than most.

That helps to explain why the All-Ireland champions are 1/3 favourites to defend their Leinster crown in Páirc Tailteann tonight.

Kildare have impressed en route to the final, amassing 5-27 against Offaly and Meath. Yet Dublin have scored even more - 4-36 - against Laois and Longford.


They also bring a wealth of big-game experience to Navan. Eight of their selected team started last year's All-Ireland romp against Roscommon - goalkeeper Lorcan Molloy, defenders David Byrne, Ross McGowan, Eric Lowndes and Conor Mullally, along with attacking trio Niall Scully, Costello and Conor McHugh.

Of that octet, all bar McGowan and Mullally have enjoyed some level of game-time (brief or otherwise) with the Dublin seniors.

Meanwhile, Farrell's midfield pairing includes one player (Stephen Cunningham) who came off the bench in last year's All-Ireland and another (Shane Carthy) who would certainly have started but for his documented battle with depression last spring.

This year, Carthy has not alone re-established himself as a driving U21 force but has shown plenty of glimpses, at senior level, to suggest he could make the championship cut this summer.


Still, notwithstanding Costello's abundant qualities as a sleek runner and slick finisher, O'Gara will be a loss. The Temploegue tyro, who cruelly broke his ankle in the same club game that scuppered his brother Eoghan's cruciate, revealed a knack for inflicting early scoreboard damage against both Laois and Longford.

A more worrying collective trait in both those games was a propensity for lull periods. Dublin were seven up early doors against Laois only to trail soon after half-time; while Longford rattled them with two goals inside the opening quarter.

However, when the need was greatest, Dublin put their pedal to the metal: thus, they ran out 11-point winners over Laois and went on a late six-point spree to beat Longford by five.

Unlike the Lilywhite U21s who conquered Leinster two years ago, Kildare aren't top-heavy with senior prodigies - but collectively they have impressed and they also possess a gilt-edged talent in Niall Kelly, who has tallied 0-9 (0-8 from play) against Offaly and Meath.

Kelly and Neil Flynn have plenty of scores in their locker ... but Dessie's cubs look to have even more.

ODDS: Dublin 1/3, Draw 8/1, Kildare 3/1


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