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Dubs impress to reach final

SO the blue wave keeps on rising. And Dublin remain on track for a second All-Ireland under-21 title in three years after routinely passing the most thorough examination of their credentials in Portlaoise on Saturday with a 3-11 to 0-14 victory over Cork.

A new band of supremely talented players look both destined and ready-built for seniordom. And Jim Gavin's managerial stock grows ever stronger.

A good day so for Dublin football and possibly, a better one to come when Gavin's men meet Roscommon in the All-Ireland final on Saturday week (May 5).

"You would hope that we would have that experience of it," reflected Gavin after the path to the decider had been cleared. "And it is just a game of football with all the razzamatazz involved with it. But you hope that experience would count for something."

The signs are good, though.

By simple virtue of the fact that Cork proved the most talented team Dublin faced so far this year, last Saturday's performance ranks alone as their best.

Tellingly, the win also revealed much more about the depth of the Dublin armoury than any of their previous domineering victories.

Firstly, Ciarán Kilkenny's scoring contribution was limited to a single point from play -- albeit a fine one at that -- but the rest of the Dublin attack pitched in and midfield made up the shortfall.

"Other games, Ciarán was playing well so the guys just gave him the ball," Gavin noted, "and it's great to see them step up today.

"There was a lot of talk about one or two of our marquee forward but it was great to see other guys step up. They put a lot of pressure on themselves."

Philly Ryan, in particular, flourished, displaying a confidence and accuracy which had deserted him in the cakewalk Leinster final win over Louth, a fact Gavin referred to afterwards.

"I'm delighted for Philly," the manager admitted. "He worked very hard. He was taken off the last day. That's just the way the squad concept works with me anyway. We all know that if they are going through a bad day, other guys on the bench will step up to the mark."

An early score for the St Brigid's man from a set piece '45' facilitated his calibration in front of the posts and his beautifully executed penalty in the 15th minute had his confidence high for the remainder of the game.

The sheer value of that score alone can't be underestimated, though.

Cork had started in a blaze of positive energy and set the pace -- another departure for Dublin this year.

John O'Rourke, Dónal Óg Hodnett, Mark Sugrue and Brian Hurley (two) all claimed points to put them into an early and deserved 0-5 to 0-1 advantage.

"We struggled in some parts of the game but I thought the guys showed great resolve," Gavin said.

"Cork got a great start. But we knew that we had the wind and the forwards to score."

The ever-lively Gary Sweeney and Danny Byrne settled Dublin with well-crafted scores but it was Ryan's penalty which put the Dubs into the lead, one which they minded and expanded upon seemingly at will from there on in.

Paul Hudson -- another to shine in front of the posts -- rounded Cork goalkeeper, Seán Mellet, but fluffed his close-in shot. Kilkenny pounced and tapped home but not before Danny O'Donovan was deemed to have handled the ball on the ground and a penalty was eventually awarded when referee, Martin Higgins, had weighed up the chain of events.

Ryan's second goal five minutes before half-time after good link play from both Byrne and Kilkenny gave Dublin a far-from-insurmountable four-point half-time lead but Jack McCaffrey's strike after the break effectively sealed the victory.

Again, Ryan and Sweeney were involved in the build-up and McCaffrey, on one of his trademark forays from wing-back, coolly slotted low into the net.

From there, the remainder of the action was rendered mostly academic by Dublin's ability to pick off scores and some zealous, skillful and composed defending from the likes of Kevin O'Brien and Seán George when so much as a flicker of a Cork goal chance emerged.

"Some of the wides they would have kicked I thought were credit to the Dublin backs for putting up under pressure," Gavin praised. "But the goal was crucial. It gives you a bit of breathing space in the game."

So too did the utter dominance of his midfield pairing, Emmet Ó Conghaile and Ciarán Reddin, another major plus on the day. Centrefield had been an area of flux for Gavin through their early matches but those two dominated the aerial exchanges and used the ball smartly with the dynamic Ó Conghaile also pitching in with a brace of points.

The Lucan man is one of five of last year's minors on the under-21 panel (Kilkenny, McCaffrey, John Small and Paul Mannion are the others) and they get an immediate chance to clinch a national title after last year's September heartbreak.

Afterwards though, Gavin was keen to nip that sort of talk in the bud.

"Different competition, different group of players," he insisted. "They were disappointed by it. Certainly, we don't look back on last year's defeat in the first round or Cork in '09. That's not the way it is for us, anyway.

"I don't think from observing close up that these guys look back. We always tell them to look forward. Get out and express themselves as footballers and if you're looking over your shoulder, that won't happen."