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Monday 18 November 2019

No shoo-in but Dub wannabes the best bet

IN FORM: Dublin’s Robbie McDaid
IN FORM: Dublin’s Robbie McDaid

What's seldom is wonderful... a Leinster senior football tournament viewed through the prism of a relatively competitive level playing field.

That's what happens when you 'handicap' Dublin (or rather when Dublin handicap themselves) be entering a team comprised almost entirely of Sky Blue wannabes.

Thus, last weekend, the Dubs were priced at evens against Meath - even before a team was announced, it was an open secret that it would be Dublin but not as we know them.

The bookies were on the money; that semi-final finished level and required a penalty shootout before the Parnell Park hosts prevailed.

This time around they are 4/9 and their favouritism, albeit slightly lukewarm, is understandable.

Firstly there's the strength in depth argument. Even Dublin's so-called third-string contains a pretty long queue of players who have previously flourished either at county underage or club level or both.

Seán McMahon, who caught the eye marauding forward from full-back against the Royals, was a key defensive plank on the Dublin team that claimed the last ever All-Ireland U21 title, in 2017.

Midfielder Darren Gavin was TG4's official Man of the Match in that 2017 decider while forward schemer Aaron Byrne was named EirGrid U21 player of the year.

Meanwhile, Robbie McDaid (who morphed from wing-back to auxiliary attacker to palm their only goal) and Ryan Basquel (who staked his claim with a slick 0-4) were arguably Dublin's two top performers.

Guess what? Both McDaid and Basquel (older brother of Collie) won All-Ireland club SFC medals with Ballyboden St Enda's in 2016.

It remains to be seen how many of this chasing pack get to extend their auditions into the Allianz League. How they fare tonight is bound to influence that decision-making process for Jim Gavin, watching on from the shadows as Paul Clarke continues his familiar role as stand-in O'Byrne Cup boss.

Based on what we've seen to date of Jack Cooney's Westmeath, this is unlikely to be straight-forward. The visitors have trained hard under their new manager and all their effort have been reflected on the pitch, especially in their comfortable back-to-back victories over Kildare and Longford.

ODDS: Dublin 4/9 Draw 15/2 Westmeath 9/4

VERDICT: Dublin

O'Byrne Cup Final

Dublin v Westmeath

(Parnell Pk, Tonight 8.0, TG4)

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