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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 18 September, 2019
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Capital gains - Dublin North end wait for Leinster final and DCU make Fitzgibbon Cup history

Big games ahead in the coming days for hurling outfits from the capital.

SIGNS OF PROGRESS.

Eoghan O'Donnell Eoghan O'Donnell has impressed for DCU this season. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

This afternoon in Carlow the marquee game on the Leinster colleges hurling calendar will feature a Dublin team for the first time in a decade.

The combination Dublin Colleges outfit contested five finals between 1999 and 2008, picking up two titles along the way. The victory ten years ago featured a man-of-the-match performance from David Treacy as he supplied 0-10 and Liam Rushe was amongst those wheeled off the bench.

Two years previously a Dublin side lost the Leinster final but responded to lift the All-Ireland crown with a couple of current established football stars in their ranks back then in Diarmuid Connolly and Jonny Cooper.

Ross Horan and Dermot Connolly Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Johnny Cooper and Conor Cooney Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Since then the competition has been the preserve of Noreside heavyweights. The fact that St Kieran’s and Kilkenny CBS have carved up the last eight titles between them along with facing off against each other in six of those deciders illustrates how it has been a period of Kilkenny hegemony.

On Saturday afternoon new ground will be broken in Mallow. DCU ended a wait stretching back to 1997 last week to show up in the last four in the Fitzgibbon Cup. Success there propels them into the final showdown for the first time. For opponents UL it’s a third final outing in four years, success in 2015 followed by a loss after an extra-time thriller in 2016.

Family connections bind the two sides. Dublin trio Eoghan O’Donnell, Donal Burke and Colin Currie are in the DCU camp with their younger brothers Enda, Kevin and Sean competing at schools level. Kilkenny heavyweights Ballyhale Shamrocks have an interest in both clashes with Adrian Mullen powering the St Kieran’s forward line and his older brother Darren anchoring the DCU rearguard.

Darren Mullen and Derek McNicholas Darren Mullen in action for DCU against DIT in the recent Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Crumlin native Paul O’Brien will have a role on both sidelines, GAA officer in DCU and part of a management team with Tipperary native Michael O’Dwyer and Cork’s Ger Dinan for the Dublin North team.

They are appreciating the progress of Dublin North and drawing players from 12 clubs – Na Fianna, Whitehall Colmcille, St Oliver Plunkett’s, St Vincent’s, Naomh Barróg, Craobh Chiarain, Raheny, St Brigid’s, St Peregrine’s, Erins Isle, Naomh Mearnóg and St Sylvester’s – to arm themselves for a shot at provincial glory.

“The value of getting these lads playing against the likes of St Kieran’s and Kilkenny CBS is great,” says O’Brien.

“We get good challenge matches, we played De La Salle of Waterford numerous times and we played Colman’s of Fermoy this year as well. Getting lads exposed to hurling at that level and at this time of year is excellent.

“It’s absolutely no surprise that they’re are as good as they are because of the culture that’s down there. It’s just very impressive what is going on.

“Look it is good for Dublin hurling. We would have played Dublin South in November and whoever won that game progressed. We beat them by two or three points in a tight game, so we’ve progressed from November. I’m just mad to get lads exposed to good quality hurling.

“It’s lovely to be in it. I’d have great respect for St Kieran’s. It’s absolutely no surprise that they’re are as good as they are because of the culture that’s down there. It’s just very impressive what is going on.”

Adrian Mullen celebrates scoring his side's third goal Adrian Mullen celebrates netting for St Kieran's in last year's Croke Cup final. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

DCU’s GAA culture has zoned in on their Gaelic football exploits of late. They’ve picked off three Sigerson Cup titles since 2010, lost another final two years ago and rolled out a succession of players that have bounded on seamlessly to the inter-county senior stage.

Hurling progress has been incremental over recent years with a myriad of factors aiding their cause – the development of facilities at the DCU Sportsground, the linking up with St Pat’s Drumcondra – Kilkenny’s John Donnelly and Waterford’s Patrick Curran are both students there – there was sponsorship help when they were rising up from Des O’Brien in AIB and the leadership of Martin Kennedy in DCU GAA circles.

They won the All-Ireland Freshers title last year and pushed UCC to the wire in the Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final. They have high hopes for their current batch of Freshers. Wexford duo Conor Firman and Rory O’Connor were both handed gametime by Davy Fitzgerald in Semple Stadium last Saturday night. Dublin’s Paddy Smyth, Limerick’s Brian Ryan and Kilkenny’s James Bergin are all highly-rated prospects.

The current Fitzgibbon Cup team is largely bolstered by Dublin, Wexford and Kilkenny players but the impact of Westmeath’s Killian Doyle in recent weeks is evidence of the input from figures in other Leinster counties.

Killian Doyle Westmeath hurler Killian Doyle. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I’d be very conscious that Westmeath are a county who are progressing,” says O’Brien.

“We’ve had good lads in from Wicklow and Meath getting that exposure as well. It’s not saying they’re weaker counties but fellas want the opportunity to be playing at the highest level possible.

“Colleges is the only stage where you actually get that. Playing against Tony Kelly at the weekend for example and in an environment where you’re hoping to win.”

The players have arrived to DCU and been exposed to progressive coaching and good structures.

“Gar O’Driscoll, Eoin Roche, Martin Rabbitte, Nick Weir and James O’Donoghue have all driven hurling on massively in DCU,” says O’Brien.

“They’ve really put a lot of work into Fresher teams. That’s very much the policy you need to take. Them fellas are the ones out on the pitch, creating the culture because they’re very good coaches and very personable.”

The final hurdles have to be cleared to hoist silverware into the air and the challenges are considerable. St Kieran’s today and UL on Saturday both have a rich tradition. Their team line-ups bristle with talent.

But in the hurling pockets in the northside of the capital, the fact that Dublin North and DCU are competing is a sign of strides being made.

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Fintan O'Toole

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