O'Hanlon cautious of 'blessed' Dubs' prospects
THEY might be the most established footballing power left in the U-21 competition, but selector Shane O'Hanlon admits that Dublin's run to the All-Ireland semi-final has been sprinkled with more than a little luck.
Extra-time victories over Carlow and Louth and a flattering six-point win against Westmeath in the Leinster final is not vintage form and O'Hanlon sounded a note of caution heading into tonight's last-four clash with Roscommon in Kingspan Breffni Park (7.30).
"We've had the rub of the green, there's no doubt about that. In fact, against Louth we were completely blessed and were a couple of points down with normal time up and we came through it," recalls the St Vincent's clubman.
"Carlow were a better side than most people gave them credit for and Westmeath had a very strong forward line that gave us plenty of problems."
Dublin are warm favourites to go one better than last year when they crashed out in the semi-finals to eventual champions Cork and are fancied by the bookies to win the competition outright.
However, Roscommon should be given due respect for toppling Mayo, who have a good recent record in this competition, with a tremendous performance and Jimmy Gacquin's side boast a number of players with senior inter-county experience, including Donal Shine, whose battle with Rory O'Carroll could have a big bearing on the outcome tonight.
O'Carroll aside, the Dubs are short on players who have experienced the rigours of senior football, with the likes of John McCarthy, Dean Rock and Daragh Nelson getting just a taste of the top level.
"We've built up a bit of character as the games have gone on. Last year, we could see that improvement as the games went on; this year it hasn't quite been as obvious," remarks O'Hanlon. "Roscommon look impressive. Donal and Cathal Shine are two good players and they have a strong midfield and are organised and hard-working so they'll be hard to break down.
"They have a lot of players from the senior team, certainly more than us and that experience counts for a lot at this level. They also have a few lads from the squad that won the minor All-Ireland in 2006, so that all counts. We've had a big turnover on last year in terms of personnel but that's the challenge at this level."
Gacquin has made just one change, with Paul O'Grady replacing Jack Sharkey at corner-back.
During the Leinster final, the Dubs' cause was helped by the return of Cian Mullins to the midfield area, where Westmeath sensation John Heslin reigned supreme for long periods, and while O'Hanlon acknowledged that silverware would be a huge boost for the county, he insists that preparing players for the senior side is their primary concern.
"We see our job as getting these lads ready if and when they are called up to the senior panel. That's our job first and foremost and comes before winning matches," he said. "Four of last year's squad are involved with Dublin and we're hoping that a few of these lads can do the same."