Holders Wexford look well placed to defend the crown
AFTER Dublin's own Black Sunday, Dublin's U-21 hurlers will hope to put a smile back on the faces of followers of the small ball in the capital when they face Wexford in their Bord Gáis Energy Leinster U21 HC Final at Parnell Park this evening (7.30).
Last weekend's disappointing defeats for both the minor and senior teams had a deflating effect on the county's hurling supporters but they have a chance of redemption when they meet the reigning holders in Donnycarney.
The Model County have cruised through to the final, enjoying comfortable wins over both Kilkenny and Offaly, playing with a confidence that befits their status as Leinster champions.
They go into this evening's clash as favourites despite an injury concern to key marksman Conor McDonald but they have proven to date that they are far from a one-man team.
Liam Ryan, Conor Devitt and Jack Guiney also offer invaluable senior experience to their side in contrast to a Dublin team that can only boast Colm Cronin as a regular senior starter.
Cronin's goals in successive wins over both Laois and Westmeath have helped paper over the cracks somewhat in what have been less than convincing victories for Joe Fortune's men.
Certainly, Dublin will need to improve from that inconsistent showing in Mullingar a fortnight ago, especially in wining their own puckouts, a facet of their game that hugely troubled them against Westmeath.
The return of team captain Glenn Whelan should help in that regard and his return allied to the inclusion of Cian Boland should make Dublin a stronger force.
Dublin's defence has impressed in general, not conceding a goal in either game and that statistic will need to be protected if they are to enjoy genuine grounds for optimism.
The full-back line of Matthew McCaffrey, Cian O'Callaghan and Seán McClelland appears to be Dublin's strongest hand and how they cope with McDonald et al will go a long way to deciding the outcome.
Dublin have shown glimpses of their potential in attack but these sporadic snapshots need to be produced on a more regular basis with more telling contributions expected from the likes of Aodhán Clabby, Oisín O'Rorke and Paul Winters.
If that aforementioned trio can influence the game in a more decisive and consistent manner then Dublin will fancy their chances of repeating their final success over Wexford in 2011.
However, the more compelling evidence to date suggests a successful defence of their title for the visitors, assuming that Saturday's senior clash with Clare is put to the back of their collective minds.
DUBLIN: C Dooley; M McCaffrey, C O'Callaghan, S McClelland; E O'Donnell, C Crummey, C Robinson; D Gormley, C Boland; A Clabby, C Cronin, G Whelan; P Winters, O O'Rorke, C Conway.
WEXFORD: O O'Leary; D Byrne, L Ryan, E Conroy; A Kenny, S O'Gorman, J O'Connor; A Nolan, C Devitt; J Guiney, G Moore, P Foley; R Clarke, C McDonald, K Foley.