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crunch time!

THERE'S a buzz in the county. Big talk about the small ball.

And now the Dublin Senior Hurling Championship semi-finals come into view.

A delicious Donnycarney double-bill awaits next Saturday.

Mick Cuffe of St Patrick's in Palmerstown is looking forward to the party.

"A good county championship has its benefits for the Dublin team," he says.

"Everybody is giving it their best to lift their levels. There are no easy matches. Close competitive games keep the standards up."

Mick is hoping that the latter stages of the competition will now unearth a cluster of diamonds for the new Dublin management crew.

"You are always wishing for that. A few new players coming in would add to the impetus of the county squad."

There will be no shortage of youth involved in the last four, that's for sure.

The Ballyboden St Enda's v Kilmacud Crokes semi-final would be worthy of the final itself.

Crokes were champs in 2012, bridging a 25-year gap, but back came Boden to take the crown last season, defeating Crokes in a big, blockbuster of a quarter-final.

"Boden have been the benchmark in Dublin for years," states Mick. "And they have come close in Leinster.

"And whoever comes out of Dublin this time will certainly have the whole hurling community behind their efforts in Leinster.

"The hurling championship was brought forward a few weeks because of Dublin's semi-final defeat by Donegal, and that could be an advantage in the long run.

"The championship will be done and dusted that bit earlier, and the winners will have more time to get themselves ready for Leinster."

Who that will be is the million-dollar question. Of the semi-finalists, St Jude's are the only club not to have captured the Holy Grail.

Jude's will meet O'Toole's. O'Toole's are seasoned championship campaigners. There's hardly a year goes by when they are not in the quarter-final, semi-final or final.

They last lifted the crown in 2002, and their most recent appearance in the final was in 2011 when Boden secured the five-in-a-row.

Boden had three goals in the bank on that afternoon from Conor McCormack, Paul Ryan and Emmet Carroll.

Andrew Morris, with four points (two frees), was the top-scorer for O'Toole's. Liam Ryan led the Blunden Boys onto the pitch.

It's new territory for Jude's. They were one of the first teams to have secured their last-eight spot this term.

They overcame Faughs in the big Tymon derby. The supremely talented Fionn ó Riain Broin hit 10 points.

Jude's will be endeavouring to emulate the footsteps of Lucan, who reached their first final last season.

The Ayrfield men ensured that the Super Sars wouldn't be enjoying a repeat. O'Toole's produced a dominant second-half display with critical contributions coming from Conor Carton and Christy Mulligan. Boden pipped Cuala in the Southside derby. Shane Durkin had a stormer.

Cuala were in the final in 2012. Five-thousand people saw Crokes prevail.

Kilmacud accounted for St Vincent's in the quarter-final. Ryan O'Dwyer was his busy self.

The Stillorgan defence wasn't handing out the Cadbury's Roses, while Seán McGrath was sinking the putts.

Mick and St Pat's have solid, first-hand knowledge of both Boden and Crokes, who were in their pool with St Oliver Plunkett's/ER.

It was a a tough group but there was nobody frowning at Glenaulin Park.

"Fair enough, people might say the draw wasn't that kind to us. But we welcome the tough matches.

"It is very important for the development of the team to be coming against the top teams. That's the only way you are going to gauge yourself.

"Last season, we reached the championship quarter-final. We beat St Vincent's in our opening game, and we also had a win against Finbarr's. And we also had Boden in the group."

In last season's quarter-final, Pat's gave Brigid's a right rattle, losing by three points.

This time, Pat's gave more than a decent account of themselves against the heavyweights, Crokes and Boden.

"The key thing in the match against Crokes was that Ryan O'Dwyer had a savage game for them. He was their main man.

"The lads were disappointed we didn't kick on after last year. It would have been nice to have reached the knock-out stages.

"It would have been great to have got another month out of it. But we'll take lessons from it and try to come back better next year.

"But the positive thing is that since the championship, our league form has improved and we have picked up crucial points.

"We had made a poor start to the league, but staying up in Division 1 is an essential thing for us.

"We also beat Plunkett's/ER in our last championship match to secure our Senior A Championship status for next year, and that is also critical for the well-being of the side."

Remaining on the top floor gains even more merit for Pat's when Mick reveals that they have 11 dual players.

"It's hard on the players, but it's something that we have always had to deal with, so we just get on with it."

Having an All-Star in the camp is a bonus. "Liam (Rushe) is such a role model. He's down training with us and he's giving it 100 per cent. The guys feed off that."

Mick feels that more Saints would deserve the county call. One of them is Shane Stapleton, one of the finest finishers in the county.

"The new management team should look no further than Shane. He has been tremendous all year."

And on Super Saturday, there's much to savour from the Fab Four.