Sunday 27 May 2018

Soldier's of Fortune: Sky Blues look set to lift provincial crown

Joe Fortune, Dublin manager.
Joe Fortune, Dublin manager.

Suddenly, the minors and Under 21s are carrying a flickering torch for hurling in Dublin in 2016.

Though in a convenient balancing-act, both have flourished somewhat against expectations, just as they were required to salvage something from a season that finished prematurely for Ger Cunningham's team.

There is, however, a cause-and-effect relationship between the well-being of senior and Under 21 teams this year.

Whilst causing some unease, Cunningham's policy of bringing through an almost completely new team has had a positive kick for this Under 21 side who, in light of Wexford's pre-eminence at this grade of late and, pertinently, their retention of so many of the team that had forged that dominance, were considered tepid favourites to win a fourth provincial title in a row.


Tepid only because Kilkenny being Kilkenny, they were also considered a more robust bet than Dublin this year.

True, Joe Fortune has had to make do without a cabal of roughly 10 important players for large periods of their match build-ups but similarly, many of those men have absorbed senior experience much earlier than might have been expected otherwise.

And the Under 21s are seeing the benefits.

Shane Barrett is perhaps the most striking beneficiary of this.

Already established as a senior of some promise in 2015, Barrett finished the seniors' season as one of the team's most accomplished performers against Cork in defeat last Saturday in Páirc Uí Rinn.

"Ger picks on performance, so if you're performing in training, you're going to get the start," the Na Fianna defender said, of his accelerated development last year.

"It was a massive step up for me. I loved the occasion. I enjoyed it."

Barrett, along with Eoghan O'Donnell, Seán Treacy, Chris Bennett and James Madden all saw game time against Cork on Saturday, though they are free now to concentrate on this Under 21 Championship which, in light of that victory over Wexford and Kilkenny's shock loss to Westmeath, is blown wide open.

"It was massive," Barrett confirmed of that win in Wexford Park five weeks back.

"For the guts of three months, we were focused on Wexford alone. We were well prepared going down and we only had one idea in our heads - and that was getting out of Wexford with a win.

"It was tough going down there with the home crowd from Wexford. But we were delighted to get the win.

Chief among Dublin's charms that night was their defence.

O'Donnell had a stunning game on Conor McDonald.

Barrett led forcefully from his wing-back perch alongside Madden and Cian MacGabhann.

"Yeah, our defence really stood up when the pressure came on. We stood up and we didn't walk away from it," Barrett reflected.

"Their forwards just weren't able to handle our defence."

"We've been playing all the way up," he added of the very visible chemistry in this current group.

"The lads know each other. We're mostly best mates as well, so we all play for each other.

"I think that comes out in the performance as well."


It must be noted also, that Joe Fortune's management of the team and his availability circumstances has been excellent.

"Joe's full-on. Joe's full of emotion. He hits every ball with us," Barrett explained.

"He's bringing us to a very good level."

Offaly have beaten Kildare and Carlow, possess a couple of sharp forwards in Emmet Nolan and Oisín Kelly and with home advantage, can't be discounted.

The upshot of that easily navigable route is that they haven't met a team of the pace or strength of Dublin.

With Bennett, Treacy and Cian Boland operating in tandem, Dublin should open Offaly up for goals and look too mature a side to let this opportunity slip.

ODDS: Offaly 7/2, Draw 11/1, Dublin 1/4


Leinster U-21 Hurling final: Dublin

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