RONAN MAC LOCHLAINN – 30 APRIL 2013 02:00 PM
AS opening round fixtures go, Dublin’s minor hurlers would have welcomed a cosier introduction to championship fare as they face a buoyant Offaly in their Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Hurling Championship tie, provisionally arranged for Tullamore next Saturday afternoon (3.0).
The Faithful were far too strong for Carlow last Saturday week and the confidence derived from that result could make for an unsettling afternoon for a Dublin side shorn of similar competitive action to date.
How Dublin respond to that pressure could well prove very instructive when assessing their provincial and national ambitions but team manager Pat Fanning expects his panel to produce a performance in tune with their encouraging preparations.
“We are definitely going in the right direction and I expect the lads to put in a decent performance,” said the Na Fianna clubman. “We have put in some encouraging displays in challenge games over the past weeks and months and we’ll need to reach that same level at the weekend.”
Dublin’s preparations continued last Friday evening with a difficult assignment against All-Ireland champions Tipperary in Thurles but the 1-14 to 0-14 reverse offered Fanning genuine grounds for optimism about the season ahead.
The defeat continued a trend over the spring in which the Dubs have run the top teams close without securing success but Fanning believes that his panel are not far away from the required standard.
He added: “We didn’t make the best of starts against Tipperary last Friday but we managed to improve after the break and we finished the game strongly which is a positive from my perspective. There were some good individual displays and we are definitely within touching distance of the top teams. Having both Mark Kavanagh and Gary Quinlivan back from injury was another boost from the game.”
The return of that duo is particularly welcome given the likely absence of three key personnel to Fanning with Shane Barrett, Chris Bennett and Cian Boland all struggling for fitness ahead of the championship.
Both Barrett and Boland, who were so instrumental in Dublin’s run to the All-Ireland final last year, are likely to be unavailable for up to two months while Bennett’s recent return to training has arrived too late to make him available for selection, a headache Fanning could have done without.
“It’s not ideal to have three important players missing like that and their experience would have been crucial for what is a relatively young and inexperienced panel,” Fanning said.
“However, I have been very happy with the strength of the panel and it gives other lads the chance to step up and make the jersey their own,” he added.
Another potential stumbling block is the venue for Saturday as Offaly won the coin toss to ensure their home advantage.
However, Fanning, who named Seán Treacy from Cuala as his captain for the year with Andrew Jamieson Murphy as vice-captain, refuses to concede any inconvenience as to the venue and is more concerned with the difficult challenge that The Faithful will present. He said: “I watched them against Carlow and their scoring was very impressive.
“There is reasonable hope for this Offaly team and they have a big advantage of having already played a championship game.
“To be honest, it doesn’t really matter where the game is played.
“We have to ensure that the lads are focussed on the challenge that Offaly will present and it’s likely that we won’t have a chance later in the year if we start to worry about the venue of a match. We just need to focus on Saturday, get over Offaly and take it from there.”