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Confident Dubs hold more aces

OVER the past four or five years, this very fixture had big, bright, shining 'warning' signs painted all over it for Dublin but this time, clashing with Antrim represents undoubtedly the plum draw of the round, particularly when you consider the alternative.

Taking on either the Saffrons or Liam Sheedy's Tipperary troops is a bit of a no-brainer and for the second year in succession, Anthony Daly's Dublin have been handed a less treacherous path to an All-Ireland quarter-final. But as with last year's Leinster opener in Croke Park, the tie is fraught with danger for Dublin.

Antrim don't fear Dublin and won't for as long as they can stay relatively competitive with the boys in blue and they were exactly that for considerable patches of last year's clash before Alan McCrabbe's class and a bit of collective gumption put the Dubs into a late commanding lead.

Slowly though, Dublin are maturing. There was no fist-pumping or crowd-waving after their 13-point defeat over Clare but perhaps part of reason for the underwhelming post-whistle reaction was many of the players realised how close they had come to letting the game slip from their grasp completely.

A spell of absolute Banner dominance after the half-time interval left Dublin stunned and but for Peter Kelly's fortunate goal, the lengthy stoppage due to Pat Donnellan's injury and McCrabbe's pinpoint converted sideline, who's to say Clare wouldn't have gone on and beaten Dublin?

Yet the expertise with which Dublin turned the screw on an albeit deflated Clare resistance was impressive. For the first time this year, Dublin looked to have a forward line bursting with scoring alternatives and outside of the result and the continued participation in this year's championship, the primary reason to be cheerful from a blue perspective was 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan. The magical St Mark's marksman was utterly superb at a point in the match when Dublin needed it most, scoring six first-half points and causing pandemonium whenever early ball was directed accurately into his space.

Declan O'Dwyer and Peadar Carton started well and in retaining both in attack despite David Treacy coming through 60 successful minutes in Wednesday's Leinster U21 final, Daly is putting his faith in a winning team.

With Shane Durkin added to attack thanks to Maurice O'Brien's midfield relocation and Alan McCrabbe operating as an out and out forward, there's scores in that attack, something which was to a large extent missing from Dublin's armoury in the league.

Yet for that unit to function as smoothly as it did against Clare, the Dublin half-back division need to be as dominant as they were for large parts of that game throughout today's contest. Any significant lapses and Antrim are the sort of team who thrive on a quick blast of momentum. They were almost dead and buried in Casement Park against Carlow, but through sheer bull-headed determination, hatched the necessary scores to win through to this tie.

For Dublin, much will depend on how key men like Liam Rushe, Peter Kelly and Oisín Gough hold up under the wear and tear of a third big, tough match in a week but even aside from that, with Treacy, Liam Ryan, Michael Carton, Kevin Flynn and a couple of others in reserve, Daly's men should have enough of the bases covered to make an All-Ireland quarter-final with a bit to spare.

DUBLIN: G Maguire; N Corcoran, T Brady, O Gough; S Hiney, J Boland, P Kelly; J McCaffrey, M O'Brien; D O'Dwyer, L Rushe, S Durkin; P Carton, D O'Callaghan, A McCrabbe.

ANTRIM: C O'Connell; K McGourty, C Donnelly, S Delargy; P Shiels, J Campbell, C Herron; S McNaughton, K Stewart; S McCrory, N McManus, T McCann; PJ O'Connell, L Watson, K McKeegan.

ODDS: Dublin 1/8, Draw 16/1, Antrim 11/2

VERDICT: Dublin

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