Farrell steps into unknown

Ronan Mac Lochlainn

DUBLIN will take their first steps in a hopeful retention of their All-Ireland title when they face Carlow in their Cadbury's Leinster Under-21 Football Championship first round encounter at Parnell Park this evening (7.30).

Given their impressive record at both this level and at the minor grade in the not-too-distant past, it is little wonder the Dubs make their provincial bow as raging hot favourites, both this evening and for garnering silverware further down the line.

However, those thoughts are very much at the back of Dessie Farrell's mind with the Dublin manager slightly vexed with how external influences have impeded his team's preparations for this evening.

"The under-21 championship is a very different competition to anything I've been involved in previously," he said. "There is a huge contrast to my role as Dublin minor manager when I had relatively unlimited access to my panel and it can be quite a challenge in terms of both selecting the panel and developing a style and way of playing that suits that panel.

"Of course, every county is in the same boat and we just have to knuckle down and get on with it but it is definitely a frustrating part of the role."

With a large chunk of his proposed panel concentrated on the Sigerson Cup and other college competitions in addition to senior call-ups to Jim Gavin's panel, Dublin will, to some degree, be taking a step into the unknown.

Naturally, Farrell is well aware of the qualities that his minor teams of 2011 and last year possess, but it is his familiarity with the corresponding minor team from 2010, managed by Val Andrews, that could well define how Dublin fare this year.

"Because of the limited access to our players so far, we are still carrying a relatively large panel at the moment," he said. "I would concede that we are still trying to get a handle on the talent available to us and there are many players involved that would be of a similar level so we need to keep them within the group so we can assess their merits further.

"The 2010 minor team lost to Kildare in the Leinster championship after a great battle and naturally some of those lads will be involved and it will be important that we compliment their talents with those of the past two minor sides," added the 1995 All-Ireland winner.

Having time to develop the players will be pivotal to Dublin's chances but the knock-out nature and quick turnaround of games restricts that opportunity.

That facet of the competition makes this evening's visit of Carlow the sole focus of Farrell's attentions as Dublin look to progress to a quarter-final meeting with Longford in a fortnight's time.

"As there is very little form to follow, we wouldn't know too much about this Carlow team although we did play them at minor level in recent years so naturally we'd be familiar with some of those players," Farrell went on.

"It is a step into the unknown for all of us and although we'd be considered favourites to progress tonight, it is very hard to know your strengths until you go out and compete at this level.

"We should have a relatively young team this year, compared to genuine under-21 teams and that might level the playing field somewhat," he concluded.