O’Byrne Cup Final Preview: Reds have a score to settle with the Dubs
By Caoimhín Reilly
Louth will play Dublin for the fourth time in an O’Byrne Cup final in Drogheda on Sunday seeking to win the competition for the first time since 2009.
And, when you blend their recent promising form with the inexperience of the Dublin pre-season panel, you would expect the Reds to have too much for Paul Clarke’s talented young Dubs, despite the bookies installing the All-Ireland champions as firm favourites.
Now, by now means are the Metropolitans to be written off this weekend with Louth’s record against the Sky-Blue outfit being forgettable to say the least.
However, the Reds are readying themselves for a tough league campaign and defeat to a line-up of youngsters certainly would not be good for morale – as was evident in Kildare last weekend when Lilywhites manager Cian O’Neill was outraged at his side for succumbing to the Dubs in their last-four tie.
The fact that Kildare played, on paper, a full-strength side and still were beaten highlights the quality of this Dublin team, despite their tender years and the unlikelihood that many of them will feature when Jim Gavin’s artillery arrives back into contention.
In the likes of Ciaran Reddin, Conor McHugh and particularly Paul Hudson, Dublin have serious potential to hurt a Louth defence which has conceded 3-41 in their four matches so far.
The Dubs have used 27 players across their matches, the majority of whom are senior debutants which is frightening when you consider that they have a 100% record against full-strength inter-county teams. Wexford, in the group, and Kildare, in the semi-final, being their victims.
Hudson has played in each of the three inside forward positions while his average return in front of the posts is more than five-points per game and Colin Kelly will surely need to ensure his influence is curtailed if Sunday’s hosts are to claim their fifth win on the trot.
In fact, 13 of Dublin’s players have played in every game so far with keeper Evan Comerford and full-back Eoin O’Brien being impressive. Comerford appears destined to fill the boots of Stephen Cluxton when the four-times All-Ireland winner steps aside.
Dublin appear to have the edge in attack, however, the Louth midfield partnership of Tommy Durnin and Andy McDonnell shone brightly in Navan last weekend and if that duo can replicate the type of form that they did in dominating the victory over Meath then their side may have a winning platform.
Both hit two-points in the win against the Royals with Durnin’s pair of points being particularly outstanding, having hit one off either foot. Indeed, Durnin is Louth’s most prolific marksman from open-play in 2017 having knocked over six-points from his four appearances.
Arguably, the Westerns man has been Colin Kelly’s most consistent performer and he appears a certainty to line-out at midfield for the National League.
Kelly has used a staggering 33 players in this year’s competition, including handing out 10 debuts with last year’s minor starlets Ross Nally and Sam Mulroy playing crucial roles in respective victories on debut.
It says a lot about the type of characters that the Louth manager has at his disposal when, despite such frequent changes of personnel, they have upheld their 100% record.
Ryan Burns remains the only player unavailable due to his part on the DCU Sigerson Cup team. As a result, the Reds are able to call upon the majority of their prized assets and a third O’Byrne Cup Final defeat to the Dubs could seriously check the side’s momentum ahead of their Allianz League opener in Portlaoise next weekend.
Kelly has continually stressed how serious he is taking this competition and, although he hasn’t openly stated his desire to win it rather to use it to get game time into his troops, it could signal his team’s only genuine opportunity to the clinch silverware in 2017.
An intriguing tussle lies ahead.
Venue: Gaelic Grounds, Drogheda
Referee: John Hickey (Carlow)
Managers, Colin Kelly and Paul Clarke clashed as players in the 1995 Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final. Kelly scored four of Louth’s five points while Clarke, who would win an All-Ireland medal later that year, notched a brace of points as the Dubs ran out comfortable winners in Navan, 0-19 to 2-5.
Louth and Dublin have met in the O’Byrne Cup final on three previous occasions (1960, 1980 & 1999), with the Metropolitans leading the head-to-head two-one.
Seven out of the last 10 O’Byrne Cup deciders have featured either Louth or the Dubs.