Dublin will hope to mirror the result of their senior counterparts when they face Laois in the Bord Gáis Energy Leinster U21 Hurling Championship quarter-final in Portlaoise tomorrow evening (7.30).
A dominant first-half display allowed the senior Dubs to cruise into a provincial semi-final and U21 manager John Henderson will be hoping his side also find their scoring touch and book a home semi-final against Carlow in three weeks’ time.
“We know it is a difficult place to go and all we need to do is cast our minds back three years when Laois beat Dublin in the corresponding fixture at minor level to know that we’re in for a tough night,” said Henderson.
The Dubs, looking for an unprecedented third successive Leinster title, will have gained from their exploits over the past two years with many of this year’s panel having featured in last year’s All-Ireland defeat to Galway.
The forwards look particularly experienced with Seán McGrath, Mark Schutte, Tomás Connolly selected to start tomorrow night with both Odhran ó Maoiléidigh and Ben Quinn involved again this term.
Naturally, the forwards will be augmented by another of last year’s panel in Eamonn Dillon, who has made the leap onto the senior panel in recent months, while another of Anthony Daly’s squad, Danny Sutcliffe, can be expected to lead by example from centre-back where he is flanked by the talented Chris Crummey and Cillian Moffatt.
The Dublin attack also includes the powerful John Hetherton, son of senior selector Ciarán, who has been in fine club form with St Vincent’s of late.
Stephen O’Connor from Ballyboden St Enda’s also remains from last year, giving Henderson strong options around midfield where he will partner Glenn Whelan (Ballinteer St John’s) while the defence also includes the Kilmacud Crokes duo of Bill O’Carroll and Jack Doughan.
The team will be captained by full-forward Seán McGrath – one of four Kilmacud Crokes’ players in the starting 15.
Such depth should stand Henderson in good stead as he gets to know the qualities of the panel available to him, and the initial impressions have been largely favourable, according to the Kilkenny native.
“Although I probably haven’t had the panel together for as long as I would have liked, it is clear that they are well able to play.
“They appear to be a well-disciplined bunch of players and a lot of them have been playing quite competitively with their clubs and they are without doubt a talented panel of players.
“In some ways, a lot of the players seem to possess similar levels of talent and ability, so it has been a very difficult challenge for myself and the selectors in deciding the 24 that will be involved against Laois,” said Henderson.
First-round ties at this level are notoriously tricky and on the assumption that Dublin do progress to the last four, then it is possible that Ciarán Kilkenny will be called up once his Leaving Certificate commitments are fulfilled.
His performances were crucial in Dublin’s run to last year’s All-Ireland MHC Final (Dublin lost to Galway) and he is certainly a player that has caught the manager’s eye.
“We won’t have Ciarán available for tomorrow as he is focused on his studies but he is certainly a player that we would look at if we progress,” concluded Henderson, himself the of Leinster and All-Ireland U21 medals with Kilkenny in 1977.
DUBLIN (U21HC v Laois): G McManus; C Murphy, B O’Carroll, J Doughan; C Crummey, D Sutcliffe,C Moffatt; G Whelan, S O’Connor; M Schutte,N ó Riordáin, J Hetherton; T Connolly, S McGrath, E Dillon.
– Ronan Mac Lochlainn – Evening Herald