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Friday 21 September 2018

Whitely eyes manic month

Dub rookies could face ten-game schedule

ALL SET: Limerick’s Kyle Hayes, Kilkenny’s Richie Leahy, Dublin’s Fergal Whitely,
Tipperary’s Paudie Feehan, Antrim’s Ryan Elliot, Clare’s Jason McCarthy and Cork’s
Darragh Fitzgibbon at yesterday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21HC launch in
Mitchelstown Caves, Cork. Follow action at #HurlingToTheCore. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
ALL SET: Limerick’s Kyle Hayes, Kilkenny’s Richie Leahy, Dublin’s Fergal Whitely, Tipperary’s Paudie Feehan, Antrim’s Ryan Elliot, Clare’s Jason McCarthy and Cork’s Darragh Fitzgibbon at yesterday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21HC launch in Mitchelstown Caves, Cork. Follow action at #HurlingToTheCore. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Several of the brightest young hurlers in Dublin are facing a manic few months on two fronts as they chase Leinster glory at senior and U21 level.

Potentially, if they keep on winning, the likes of Fergal Whitely, Donal Burke, Paddy Smyth and Ronan Hayes could be asked to play ten championship games between mid-May and early July.

Pat Gilroy's senior squad are already guaranteed four SHC round-robin fixtures, starting with their Parnell Park opener against Kilkenny on Sunday week - with a final to follow if Dublin can defy expectations and reach it.

Crowned

But the U21s must also negotiate five fences to be crowned Bord Gáis Energy Leinster champions - starting with a May 26 trip to Laois.

Beyond that, the winners will face either Antrim or Carlow; whoever emerges there will face Westmeath in the quarter-finals; followed by Wexford at the semi-final stage.

However, Whitely is adamant that Dublin can't afford to look beyond Laois for one obvious reason.

"That match is knockout so we're just focusing on that one, trying not to look too far past it from an U21 perspective," he told The Herald.

"I'm pretty sure it's down in Portlaoise. They're a team that we haven't played against at minor level or U21 the past few years, so we're unknown to each other. I would have played against them in schools matches and they would have got the better of us, so we won't be under-estimating them."

Before that, the 20-year-old will be out to impress Gilroy & Co in this weekend's final internal trial ahead of Dublin's senior date with the Cats. He started the first three rounds of the Allianz League, then returned from an injury lay-off to appear as a quarter-final sub against Tipperary.

Presuming he features in both age grades, and Dublin keep progressing, Whitely could have as many as three midweek U21 clashes coming within days of a senior showdown.

Their senior schedule alone - Kilkenny on May 13, a trip Wexford on May 20, Offaly at home on June 3 and Galway away on June 9 - is taxing enough.

But Whitely declared: "You'd definitely relish it as a player. In years gone by you'd be waiting five or six weeks for one game, so I think it's definitely better this way.

Fresh

"You just have to try and stay as fresh as you can. It will be mostly playing matches and light training during the week. You have to manage your body. It's a new thing for all the players."

The Kilmacud clubman has yet to make his first summer start but appeared off the bench in all three SHC outings last summer. "I made my debut against Galway in tough circumstances … we went down to 14 men and they took over in the last 20 minutes," he recalled.

"But I look back on last year with good memories. It was good to get experience of the senior inter-county team. It gave me an appetite to go on for the next few years hopefully.

"The result wasn't (great) but it was great to be involved against Galway. They went on to win the All-Ireland; it was good to see the standard and you strive to get to that level."

As for all the negative talk about the Dublin camp last year, Whitely insisted: "I really enjoyed last year. I felt the camp was a happy camp.

"The years before, I wasn't there so I don't really know what went on. But last year was a very happy camp, besides the championship losses - obviously they weren't happy times.

"It was an enjoyable year and definitely something that I'll bring with me. It gave me an appetite to play."

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