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Venue row adds spice to final as Barry plans a Royal shock for Dubs

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Padraic Harnan, Meath

Padraic Harnan, Meath

Padraic Harnan, Meath

Off the field, it got a little bit ugly over the past week.

Meath-Dublin games don't often come with this sort of preamble – certainly not when the rivalry has been dulled by Dublin's dominance at senior level – but the 'back and forth' between county board officials over the venue ahead for tonight's Leinster U-21 football championship final adds another level of intrigue to the usually tasty rivalry.

Meath wanted to toss for home advantage and, when that wasn't a runner, offered to play in Parnell Park. Dublin refused both suggestions, stating pitch and floodlight work had been pencilled in at the Donnycarney venue and argued that, with U-21 semi-finals and finals usually played at neutral venues, this week represented a logical window for the work to be done.

Dublin chairman Andy Kettle stated that he had refused a coin toss before he knew Parnell Park was unavailable, insisting he preferred neutral venues for provincial finals.

At best, Meath were sceptical as to Dublin's reasoning, suggesting that Dessie Farrell's side wanted to avoid playing in the relatively narrow confines of Parnell Park after Longford shocked them there last year.

In any case, Dublin were on solid ground and the Leinster council fixed the game for O'Moore Park in Portlaoise.

"We offered Parnell with no other agenda other than the logistics of it," said Meath U-21 manager Sean Barry. "It's easier to get to Parnell than Portlaoise for us both the team supporters. It's a long trip for a lot of Meath people on a Wednesday night."

Perhaps there shouldn't be as much fuss attached to the venue given the bookmakers have this down as a foregone conclusion. Farrell's side are 1/6 to win this game, a prohibitively short price in a notoriously unpredictable grade.

However, the Royals are missing two key attackers. Eamonn Wallace is well known after an impressive debut season for the senior side last year, while, after hitting 1-1 in the first round of the league, Cillian O'Sullivan was tipped for a big summer before injury also halted his gallop.

"Look that's football. We have our injuries and Dublin are missing Ciaran Kilkenny," Barry said.

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Meath's underage system has struggled in recent times, while Dublin's has been gathering momentum.

This year is the first time the Royals have reached a Leinster U-21 final since 2001 and they have to go back to 1993 for an All-Ireland title at either minor or U-21 level.

"I don't think it has been all doom and gloom," Barry countered. "Meath won Leinster minor titles in 2006 and 2008, while a lot of these lads played Leinster and All-Ireland minor finals against Dublin in 2012.

"Okay, they didn't win them, but they have the experience from competing at that level.

"In a lot of those games at U-21, we've only lost by a point, and you need a bit of luck at this level. We got some against Louth in Dundalk and we have grown as a team since then.

"Overall, though, there is some good work being done and the right people are in place now, so there is a new optimism about Meath."

Despite winning a minor All-Ireland with Dublin in 1984 alongside Jim Stynes, Barry has no divided loyalties, having spent much of his youth around Castletown in the north of the county.

There'll also be the unusual situation of clubmates going up against each other in a provincial final.

Dublin's full-forward Michael Deegan – son of former Dubs star Mick – hails from the Donaghmore-Ashbourne club in the Royal county, but has long been a part of Dublin underage set-ups. And he'll be in close quarters with clubmates Andy Colgan and Shane Melia, who line out between the posts and at centre-back respectively for the Royals in what is another subplot to a most enduring rivalry.

While Meath impressed late on against Offaly in the semi-final, anything else other than a Dublin win will go down as a shock, especially as the Royals plan without two of their star forwards.

However, Barry has been happy with how his side have progressed.

"It's a funny grade with fellas away with the seniors and their colleges. But we've had largely a settled team right through from the Hastings Cup, which gave us plenty of good games up to now.

"Dublin are a very good side. They have some players who are already household names like Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion.

"Eric Lowndes and John Small are very good players. Conor McHugh, Niall Scully, Davy Byrne, they are all very good players and they have a lot of lads who have played in and won All-Ireland finals, so they are very experienced for a team at this grade."


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