Regret candrive Dubs

Minor agony last year will inspire Gavin's U21s to beat Rossies for All-Ireland glory

Frank Roche

BEING 1/5 favourites in a two-horse race is not to be encouraged if your job is to manage the aformentioned unbackables.

That is the scenario facing Jim Gavin this week and -- in typically Gavinesque fashion -- the long-serving Dublin U21 boss has talked up Roscommon, talked down those lopsided odds, and stressed the importance of taking this year's All-Ireland U21FC final on its merits.

For in the long history of Gaelic football -- Dublin's even more so, perhaps -- no All-Ireland final was ever won in a Saturday match preview or on a bookmaker's betting stub.


You can be sure that this same cautionary message has been preached, ad nauseam, within the confines of Dublin's dressing-room. As Gavin himself noted this week: "The most dangerous pitfall is getting sucked into the opinions that are out there."

Part of the reason Dublin must tread warily this week is pretty obvious: Roscommon may be underdogs but you've got to take them seriously based simply on who they have taken out along the way.

Mayo had already toppled reigning All-Ireland champions Galway when they ran into the Rossies and lost a Connacht semi-final by four points.

Next up Sligo and a relatively straight-forward eight-point win. But for their All-Ireland semi-final, Cavan looked to have the more compelling claims -- they had retained their provincial crown while emerging from an ultra-competitive Ulster.

On that occasion, though, the Ros rearguard showed its mettle and Nigel Dineen's men prevailed by 2-7 to 2-2, courtesy of goals from wandering wing-back Conor Daly and then Colin Compton at the death.

By contrast, however, Dublin have been far more prolific en route to the final. They are also flying fit; they are as physically powerful as some senior outfits; and they have, for the most part, won while pulling away from the opposition.

That, in itself, could be a worry. For if anything can breed complacency, it's the notion that because winning has been relatively easy in the past, it will remain so going forward.

Dublin have won their five outings by a combined margin of 58 points. Three of their victories were by double-digit margins -- one of those by a jaw-dropping 23 points, albeit against an abject Laois.

This is not to say that Dublin haven't endured some ropey patches along the way. This reporter witnessed all three in the flesh -- away to Wexford in their Leinster opener, against Westmeath in their provincial semi-final at Portlaoise and then, at the same venue, against Cork in their All-Ireland semi-final.

Each time, the prospect of defeat fleetingly reared its head. When Wexford reeled off five unanswered points to draw level after 50 minutes, the home side had all the momentum. Westmeath went even better, giving Dublin an eight-point head start before drawing level inside half-an-hour. The semi-final against Cork bucked the trend because, this time, it was Dublin who found themselves stuck in the blocks as Cork raced into an early 0-5 to 0-1 lead.

Given these three 'wobbles', you may be wondering why Dublin are such raging favourites tomorrow? Here's one reason: because they have responded like champions each time.

On the one occasion when defeat loomed largest, they outscored Wexford by 0-4 to 0-1 in the last 10 minutes, Ciarán Kilkenny hitting their last two points.

A few weeks later, after Westmeath had assumed complete second-quarter command, it was Kilkenny again who led the Dublin riposte either side of half-time. He finished with 1-6 (1-5 from play) as the Sky Blues ran out 15-point winners.

Without question, the in-demand Castleknock prodigy has been Dublin's star turn this spring but -- by his own stellar standards -- he was pretty subdued against a highly-rated Cork.

Not that it ultimately mattered, as fellow inside raider Philly Ryan (with 2-3) took up the baton. After a perilous start, Dublin went from four down to four up by half-time, and essentially they were able to cruise through the second half once Jack McCaffrey coolly slotted home their third goal soon after the restart.

Mention of McCaffrey and Kilkenny brings us neatly to Emmet ó Conghaile, whose Rolls Royce engine and ability to chip in with scores from midfield has been a feature of this campaign.

All three were key members of that gifted Dublin minor team that reached last year's All-Ireland final.

A final they were widely expected to win. A final that they lost, in heartbreaking circumstances late on, to Tipperary.

Given that history, we can't see Kilkenny, McCaffrey and ó Conghaile falling prey to complacency here. Rather, their motivation couldn't be greater.

ODDS: Dublin 1/5, Draw 10/1, Roscommon 9/2 VERDICT: Dublin