Sunday 17 December 2017

long' way still to go

Dublin manager Farrell expects another tough challenge from Slashers

Dublin will put their provincial and national titles on the line as they face Longford in their eagerly anticipated EirGrid Leinster U21 Football Championship semi-final in Páirc Tailteann, Navan tomorrow evening (7.30).

The All-Ireland holders withstood a brave Laois challenge to eventually prevail by 2-21 to 2-10 in last Wednesday week's Leinster quarter-final in Portlaoise and Dublin manager Dessie Farrell anticipates a similarly tricky encounter against a talented Longford outfit tomorrow night.

The midlanders have eased through to the last four following a 4-13 to 1-5 win over Wicklow which preceded an even more impressive quarter-final win over Louth in which Longford restricted their opponents to just 1-4 over the hour.

"By no means would we even dream of underestimating Longford," admitted Farrell.

"They have a very good handle on us, given that we have played each other twice over the past two years and they'll certainly be looking to turn us over much as we will be looking to do something similar," he added.

That recent history has seen both sides enjoy a win apiece over the past two campaigns while the counties also met at minor level when Farrell was at the helm.

That familiarity should add an edge to proceedings with both sides determined to reach the final in a championship that can be notoriously unpredictable at times.

"Longford deserved their win against us in Parnell Park two years ago and thankfully we were able to get the better of them last year but the games against them are always hugely competitive and enjoyable," said Farrell.

"It will be a very interesting tussle between two well-matched teams and Longford's form so far has been very impressive.

"There has been a lot of good work done in Longford over the past six or seven years and that has enabled them to become far more competitive within the province.

"Their emphasis on development squads has been hugely beneficial for them and has assisted them in producing high quality teams.

"In some ways, we know what to expect and are familiar enough with them but they would be equally familiar with ourselves.

"They are well equipped with dangerous forwards and have a very strong spine to their side and they seem to be comfortable to the style of play they elect to use," added the 1995 All-Ireland winner.

Those dangerous forwards have helped amass 5-30 in their two matches to date and how a Dublin defence that conceded 2-10 to Laois thirteen days ago copes with this threat will prove instructive by the final whistle.

Thankfully for Dublin, their own attack impressed in accruing 2-21 in Portlaoise on what was a difficult opening fixture for a side with strong ambitions of defending their title.

The advantage of having already played a match certainly assisted Laois initially but the Dubs put in a storming last 25 minutes to come from a point in arrears to run out convincing winners by the finish line after a tough battle with Shane Carthy's injury-time goal putting the final gloss on proceedings.

Conor McHugh's six points over the hour certainly aided Dublin's cause but there was also encouragement to be derived in the notable contributions of Under 21 intercounty debutants Eoin Murchan, Killian O'Gara and Colm Basquel.

"It was great for us to get a very competitive game against Laois and we knew going down there that it would be a tough match for us.

"They had the benefit of already playing and they showed that advantage and a bit of momentum that we were obviously lacking.

"That game should stand us in good stead but generating momentum is very important at this age group, especially given that the championship is played over a relatively short period of time," said Farrell.

With a final place awaiting the winners, there is a keen sense of anticipation emanating from Dublin's panel and the experience that most of the panel have enjoyed both last year and on Dublin's successful run to All-Ireland minor glory three years ago has ensured that Farrell's charges are not short of relevant leadership skills.

With the bulk of his squad either in their first or final year at this grade, those qualities have been hugely important in fostering a strong panel mentality.

Naturally, a degree of expectation arrives with any Dublin team competing at championship level but Farrell feels his side are in a suitably well-prepared state as they await tomorrow night's match.

"This championship is all about momentum and with trying to build and instil confidence within the panel.

"It is a fragmented age group so it's very important that we get these things right and the players are really looking forward to facing Longford and the test that they will provide.

"We have been fortunate that we have been able to spend a little bit more time with the whole panel than what was possible before the Laois game and hopefully, that will help our chances of progressing.

"The preparations have gone well and we should have a full panel of players to choose from for tomorrow.

"Of course, there are areas in our game that we will need to improve on from the Laois game and naturally there were aspects of our play that needs work.

"That was understandable as we were playing our first match but the gradient gets steeper the further you advance in this competition and we'll look to go out and produce an improved performance the next day.

"We have had a fair few clashes with Longford in recent times and we're really looking forward to meeting up with them again.

"An improved display is required but as always with this championship, it's all about winning your matches and building a bit of momentum for the campaign and that is what we'll be looking for in Navan tomorrow evening," added Farrell.

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