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Dubs aim to avoid a repeat loss

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Michael Deegan, Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Michael Deegan, Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Michael Deegan, Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

IF Dessie Farrell were the superstitious type, he could be driven to distraction while contemplating the uncanny similarities between last year and this for his much-touted Dublin U-21 footballers.

CADBURY LEINSTER U21 FC SEMI-FINAL

DUBLIN v LONGFORD

(Portlaoise, Tonight 7.30)

Their 2013 campaign opened with the type of turkey shoot that serves no valuable purpose for either victor or vanquished – they annihilated Carlow by 4-27 to 0-2, a 37-point massacre.

Onto this year, which began in similar cakewalk fashion against poor, hapless Carlow - this time a 31-point (2-28 to 0-3) stroll in the Carlow IT park two weeks ago.

Their second outing last spring came at home to Longford; it would prove their final one as Farrell's fancied young cubs fell prey to a shock ambush.

In the run-up to that Leinster quarter-final, one bookie was quoting Dublin as low as 6/5 to retain their All-Ireland crown. Remember, at that stage, they still had to win FIVE more matches to emulate Jim Gavin's 2012 standard-bearers ... yet, such was the near-euphoria over Dublin's underage conveyor belt, some fans just couldn't see Ciarán Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey et al being beaten.

In the unforgiving world of knockout combat, however, there are no second chances and Dublin could engineer no way back from Robbie Smyth's 53rd minute goal as a low-scoring war of attrition ended in a 1-6 to 1-5 victory for the underdogs.

RIVALRY

Tonight, this time under the O'Moore Park lights, Dublin and Longford will renew their underage rivalry with a Leinster final place at stake – and more besides.

For Longford, it's about chasing that tantalising pot of silver: They have reached two of the last three Leinster U21 finals and four since 2003, yet that maiden title still awaits. For Dublin, it's about atonement, revenge, redemption – take your pick.

Given Farrell's cautious demeanour and meticulous ways, it's safe to surmise there wasn't a shred of complacency on his part 12 months ago. This time around, even if Longford have lost the majority of last year's squad, the c-word surely can't be an issue for his forewarned players either. As Farrell noted in yesterday's Herald: "We are acutely aware of their ability, having lost to them last year."

Smyth remains Longford's talisman and the focal point of their counter-attacking game plan. He scored five points, four from play, during their edge-of-the-seat extra-time victory over Laois and the likelihood is that Jack Sheedy will try to isolate his key forward in one-to-one combat with his Dublin marker.

Their midfield pairing of Barry McKeon and James McGivney isn't the biggest, but are well able to get around the park. Shane Carthy has the engine to match – but if yesterday's team announcement is taken at face value, he will start at centre-forward instead of midfield, where Patrick O'Higgins (looking leaner and still capable of soaring interventions) is now set to be partnered by Stephen Cunningham.

The likelihood is that Longford will pack plenty of bodies across the half-back/midfield sector in an attempt to frustrate Dublin's prolific array of scoring options.

Those options, however, won't include the unfortunate Kilkenny after his season-ending cruciate injury for the seniors, coming just three days after he'd clipped five handy points from play against the Carlow U21s.

More positively, Kilkenny's loss should be mitigated by the return of Cormac Costello, who was a late quarter-final withdrawal with injury. Paul Mannion also missed the Carlow game and nor is he included in tonight's starting team, but apparently he's back training and it could be a case of watch this space.

PROWESS

Costello (and maybe Mannion too) will restore searing pace and scoring prowess to an attack that already includes the accuracy of Michael Deegan and Conor McHugh. Deegan, son of Mick, feasted on Carlow's defensive disarray, helping himself to 1-6 from play in an almost understated way.

Given Dublin's prolific potential, it's scarcely a surprise that Paddy Power make them red-hot favourites tonight. But as short as 1/7? Debatable. You can't totally ignore the disparity between their untested build-up and Longford's battle-hardened route – an extra-time deadlock and replay with Westmeath, then another extra-time duel with Laois.

They could make it an uncomfortable hour, but surely Farrell's gifted tyros won't make the same mistake twice? Groundhog Day can wait.

ODDS: Dublin 1/7, Draw 10/1, Longford 11/2

VERDICT: Dublin

DUBLIN (U21FC v Longford): L Molloy; R McGowan, D Byrne, R McDaid; E Lowndes, J Small, J McCaffrey; P O'Higgins, S Cunningham; C Mulally, S Carthy, N Walsh; C McHugh, M Deegan, C Costello.


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