Sunday 17 December 2017

Second time's a charm for ace Conor McHugh

Dessie Farrell's back-to-back All-Ireland Under 21 bid begins in O'Moore Park tonight

Conor McHugh, Dublin
Conor McHugh, Dublin

IF you were to contrast and compare the 2011 Dublin minor team that lost that year's All-Ireland final to Tipperary and the side of 2012 who beat Meath and thus, ended a 28-year wait for that particular title in the capital, chances are you'd take the former, for sheer talent, most days of the week and especially on Sundays.

If subsequent senior representation is an accurate gauge, that rationale is only strengthened.

Yet there was a theory that the latter, while not quite so jewel encrusted, had an extra layer of mental grit with which to carve their title.

"The 2011 team definitely had grit as well," says Conor McHugh, a starter on both.

"There were some really good players on both teams.

"Obviously lads like Jack McCaffrey and Ciarán Kilkenny and Paul Mannion went on to have senior success from the 2011 team whereas no-one yet, really, has made the breakthrough from the 2012 team, bar Cormac Costello."

And there was more than a hint of the 2011 team exorcising their doubts last year when they regathered to form an All-Ireland Under 21 winning team.

"It was fantastic to win it last year. Especially because that age group lost to Tipperary in difficult circumstances at minor," McHugh, who scored 1-6 from play in the final against Roscommon and has since added a Sigerson Cup medal to his personal trove.

"It's a team game. The ball was just popping into my hands and I was just kicking a few hands.

"But if the lads in the forward line weren't making those selfless runs, the ball never would have come in.

"Or if the back line wasn't as dominant, I wouldn't have got much space. I was just on the end of the move to kick the scores.

"So it was very good to win with that group of lads. Hopefully we can do something this year as well.

"A lot of lads are back, which is kind of unusual. Pretty much all the lads who were there at minor are still there now at Under 21, which is good to see.

"No one went off. We're all fighting for places.

"And there was a good minor team last year so some of them are coming through as well."

The one constant in all of this is Dessie Farrell, who conducts his management of these highly successful teams as far under the public radar as he can possibly squeeze, yet whose imprint is quite defined in their makeup.

"He's an excellent man-manager," McHugh insists.

"He knows his players. He knows what we're good at and maybe what we're not good at.


"I've been working with Dessie with development squads since I was 15 so he knows me like the back of his hand. And it's the same with a lot of other lads."

Bar McHugh, there's Cormac Costello, an already established Dublin senior, if not quite in the form of his young career just now.

Niall Scully and Michael Deegan have both played with Dublin this year, too, and the former, a streaky wing-forward from Templeogue/Synge Street, was something of a revelation in last year's Under 21 final.

Then there's Gavin Burke, so prolific and comfortable on the ball for St Vincent's these past two-and-a-bit years of local and provincial dominance, a man for whom county recognition would have arrived already were he not so busy with the Marino club.

Or Con O'Callaghan, last year's minor captain, full-forward and stand-out prospect….or Niall Walsh, a strong-running, ball-winning half-forward in the St Oliver Plunkett's team that made last year's Dublin SFC final.

It bodes well for Dublin.

They travel to Laois tonight and while home advantage tends to count double at this age group, last year's Dublin Under 21s chose to play their Leinster final against Meath in O'Moore Park rather than Parnell Park, more suitable to their expansive game they felt the former to be.

"You're not going to win it on paper," McHugh insists.

"We worked hard. We worked our butts off. Dessie and the management worked great but we got the bounce of the ball in the semi-final against Cavan. We had that bit of luck."

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