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Dubs ready for defence of Sam - Cullen

THE Dubs are back on the All-Ireland glory trail again and for the first time in 16 years they will start as defending champions.

It only seems like yesterday that Bryan Cullen delighted hearts by lifting the Sam Maguire, but the daunting task of repeating that incredible feat begins tomorrow with a tricky assignment against Louth at Croke Park.

After a lacklustre league campaign, doubts have been emerging that Pat Gilroy's charges lack the determination that epitomised last year's campaign.

"That's a question that's been thrown at me a lot since we got back, and you can't really answer it sitting here in an interview room," admitted Dublin captain Cullen.

"The only place you can answer that is on the pitch.

"We will certainly be looking to set down a marker for the year, and show that we have serious ambitions of retaining both our crowns."

Tomorrow at least, much may depend on the start. "Louth are coming into Croke Park, against the All-Ireland champions, with nothing to lose really. Everyone is writing them off," Cullen pointed out.

"Any team can hurt another team in the space of 10 to 15 minutes, so I'd imagine they're really going to go at us early on."

The Leinster Council estimates that 35,000 fans, the majority of them from the capital, will travel to GAA headquarters tomorrow, but that could rise considerably if the Blue army comes out in force.

"In the end, it will depend on the size of the walk-up crowd on the day. There's no way of predicting how many Dublin supporters will turn out on the day.

"We have two very interesting games, so we'd be hoping for a good crowd, even if it is a bank holiday weekend and a lot of people will be out of Dublin.

"What we're offering is still great value for money," said Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly.