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Royal backlog is DCU opportunity

GIVEN the drama, suspense and intensity of their two-game quarter-final saga with Dublin within in the last week, Meath might be forgiven for having slightly anti-climatic feelings about tomorrow's semi-final with DCU.

Unusual though it was for January football, the drawn game in Parnell Park and Wednesday's last-gasp one-point Páirc Tailteann victory had both cut and thrust and total commitment from players extending themselves close to the limit.

It didn't really matter that plenty of the football was sub-par -- that just goes with the January territory, but there were plenty of flashes of good performances by quite a few players, though a repeat, or perhaps an even better display, will be required if Meath really do have any designs on making tomorrow week's final.

DCU qualified for last year's decider whereupon they were defeated by a Louth team so freakishly fit and coherent for the time of year that they blew everyone they met into oblivion. That was, of course, until early March when the rest of the country caught up on their fitness.

But an examination of the DCU team sheet reveals such an array of intercounty talent, it's impossible not to fancy them to win tomorrow and perhaps lift the O'Byrne Cup.

A defence consisting mostly of Dubs actually looks the strongest segment of their team, with Jonny Cooper, Kevin Nolan and Philly McMahon all set to start.

Yet the two linchpins of the DCU back unit are at numbers three and six -- Kieran Gavin and Bryan Cullen. Gavin is flourishing just now and, in Westmeath anyway, is considered one of the best full-back prospects in the country.

As for Cullen, it might be a case of taking a step backwards to go forwards. The Skerries man's last act as a DCU player was to lift the Sigerson Cup back in 2005 in Parnell Park as college captain, and his return to DCU looks a decent base from which to propel his football career.

Either way, he has experienced just about everything the game has to throw in one player's direction and his re-addition to DCU's squad bodes well for this year's Sigerson campaign.

In attack, Donie Shine, Seánie Johnston, Paul Flynn and Paddy Andrews are all top-level forwards and capable of putting on a decent score for Niall Moyna's men.

Dander

As for Meath, well, it's difficult to see them raise their dander for a third time in a week. For reasons of footballing rivalry, the matches against the Dubs took on a life of their own, and while Eamon O'Brien will be happy to see a few of those he is considering for league action in that sort of contest, he knows his squad needs plenty of slog just now.

Joe Sheridan -- continuing the form he showed for both club and county through the second half of last year -- is unlikely to play after retiring with a leg injury on Wednesday night, though we may see one, other or both of Stephen Bray and Cian Ward from the start.

Jamie Queeney looks to have an extended league run nailed down already after two impressive performances, while the introduction of Mark Ward on Wednesday could be made permanent tomorrow.

As ever over the past four or five years, Meath's struggle is to find a few inside backs in the Darren Fay/Robbie O'Malley mould, though the early signs from David Dalton (son of former Kildare defender Davy) are positive.

However, three games in a week is too much for any team just now and DCU, fresher and in form after successive guttings of Westmeath and Offaly, should progress.

VERDICT: DCU


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