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'Rebels are the benchmark'

DURING Dublin's close-but-no-Sam years of 2005 to 2009, the chronic lack of credible competition within their Leinster fiefdom was widely regarded as having detrimental consequences to their ultimate aim.

If that theory carries any truth, the Sky Blue under-21s beware.

This year was not, by any calculation, a vintage season for Leinster football at that particular grade, with Dublin winning their four matches by a combined total of 52 points, or 13 per match.

Contenders

Hardly then, the ideal preparation for an All-Ireland semi-final with perennial contenders, Cork.

"They could have played some of those games and won by only five or six points but they drove it home and hammered the teams," points out former selector, Declan Darcy.

"But it is difficult. The Wexford game was harder than people realise. I came away from the game and said to Jim (Gavin), 'you might come to realise that that was a harder game or a better team than you thought', and to date, it's probably been their hardest game."

Darcy served under Gavin in each of his previous seasons as manager, a period which has prompted an unprecedented wave of dominance at under-21 level. He currently acts in an advisory capacity.

Three Leinster titles and an All-Ireland have been gathered during that timeframe and the duo were also responsible for the majority of the work that went into Dublin's previous under-21 All-Ireland in 2003.

Naturally then, Darcy sees the grade as essential preparation for senior-dom.

"I do think Dublin football really needed to put a lot of effort into it in that regard because you saw the likes of Rory O'Carroll, James McCarthy, Seán Murray -- they all had All-Ireland (under-21) medals going into the senior final last year," he notes. "And that's a great confidence thing to have, to know that you can and have beaten the best in Ireland and that they can go into an All-Ireland final knowing that's in the back pocket. That's huge.

"My feeling is, there isn't enough players coming through in Dublin at minor and underage level with All-Ireland medals. That needs to be addressed. And it is being addressed. And I think we'll see the benefits of that.

Rapid

This year, Gavin's ranks have been bolstered handsomely by the rapid emergence of a quartet of last year's talented Dublin minor team in Ciarán Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey, Emmet Ó Conghaile and John Small, all of whom, Darcy reckons, are destined to make an impression with Pat Gilroy's ... and sooner rather than later.

"Being perfectly honest, I was a little surprised that they have had such an influence," Darcy admits before adding. "But in another way, I'm not that surprised.

"If they're well coached - and Dessie (Farrell) has a fantastic set-up as well - it shouldn't be that hard.

"The minor system is great now. If they can continue what Dessie has done, it should be seamless to any guy who has the talent. And I wouldn't be surprised given the system that they're in, if they step up to the senior level this year as well."

As for tomorrow's opponents in Portlaoise (2.0), Dublin are fully aware of their Cork's merits.

A challenge match earlier in the year - an annual tradition during Gavin's tenure - yielded a narrow win for the Rebels but Darcy reckons the gap can be bridged by Dublin's in-form forwards.

"Our bar was always Cork," Darcy insists. "We knew that they would be the pinnacle of it. I don't know a huge amount about their players but I would know that they would be in the top three teams in Ireland, if not the top team.The hard thing (tomorrow) is the mental test. They know it will be tight.

"The key thing for Dublin would be our full-forward line, getting them to click on the day. And I think if we can win enough ball in the middle of the field, I would be surprised if Cork could hold that full-forward line.

"Then again, they are the best and it will be nip-and-tuck.

"Are we going to be good enough to beat Cork? It's probably going to come down to our full-forward line really," Darcy adds. "And I think we have enough to do it."

Dublin have named the same 15 for tomorrow's All-Ireland U21FC semi-final as that which defeated Louth in the Leinster decider.

DUBLIN (U21FC v Cork): JB Carty; M Concarr, K O'Brien, S George; L Fletcher, J Kelly, J McCaffrey; E ó Conghaile, D Byrne; C Reddin, G Sweeney, M Schutte; C Kilkenny, P Ryan, P Hudson.

CORK (U21FC): S Mellet; D O'Donovan, D Cahalane, A Cronin; J Cronin, T Clancy, J Wall; R Deane, E Healy; K Hallissey, D Óg Hodnett, J O'Rourke; B Hurley, L Connolly, M Sugrue.


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