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‘The competition this year is stiffer’ – Dessie Farrell feels bar must be raised after blue cruise


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The Dubs were the comeback story of 2023 as the band got back together to produce one more blockbuster hit with Sam Maguire returning to the capital again, but they are no longer the hunters.

They are the side that everyone wants to take down and you can sense Farrell’s mind has already wandered to possible meetings with Jim McGuinness (Donegal) and Mickey Harte (Derry).

Not to mention the age-old rivalry with Kerry and a potential rematch against Jack O’Connor’s Kingdom with the Munster kingpins out for blood after last year’s sickening All-Ireland final defeat.

“The competition this year generally is much stiffer than it was last year,” the Dublin boss said. “We came out on top last year but if we were to bring that same level of performance, it won’t be good enough, and we know that for a fact.

“I’ve seen a big improvement in terms of what other teams are doing. It comes from new managers in different counties and managers who have been there already who have evolved their teams’ performance to another level.

“Then there’s the natural element that some teams and players will have felt that they missed an opportunity last year or could have done better last year or maybe didn’t fulfil their potential last year. They’ll be lying hurt and wounded in the long grass.

“So I have no doubt and we are very clear on that as a group that what was done last year and the level we got to will not be good enough this year. The challenge is there for us to improve.”

Most of their big hitters were back in tow with James McCarthy blowing some cobwebs off in his first start of the season while Jack McCaffrey, who has only appeared once in their last eight competitive games, is nearing a return.

“Jack is back training. It’s just literally getting more exposure in internal games and that type of thing, sharpen him up, get him back to match sharpness. He’s close, just maybe not ready for this one but he’s very close,” Farrell said.

​Farrell hopes to have Brian Howard back for their Leinster final date with Louth in a fortnight’s time – where they will be hot favourites to make it a 14th title in succession – after the two-time All-Star “picked up a knock during the week” so they are starting to near full power in terms of personnel.

They didn’t need to leave second gear in front of a paltry crowd of 21,957 at Croke Park yesterday, though, in what was yet another example of a Leinster SFC that is no longer fit for purpose.

“I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of the Leinster championship again,” Farrell said before insisting that “there’s definitely something to be said for” provincial semi-finals being played at smaller grounds around Leinster.

For his opposite number Declan Kelly, there were plenty of positives to take from Offaly’s endeavour for the guts of an hour before 1-5 without response put a demoralising look on the scoreboard.

Offaly odds of 33/1 spoke volumes of the chasm in class at GAA HQ but the chance to rub shoulders with the game’s finest was one which Kelly welcomed before they set off for the Tailteann Cup.

“We had our own targets coming up in terms of what we were trying to achieve and get out of it. We sort of said that no matter what was thrown at you, just keep doing what we needed to get out of the game,” Kelly said.

“We’re in Division 3 so you don’t get the opportunities to play Division 1 opposition, and definitely not that type of Division 1 opposition, and it was in Croke Park as well. So it was an experience.

“It depends on what you want to get out of it. If you were to come up against them again next year, you’d obviously be looking for incremental steps again. We had to beat Laois (in the quarter-final), we wanted to beat Laois and we did and we got a crack at Dublin out of it.”

Paul Mannion was swinging over points for fun to open proceedings and it was little surprise to see the Dubs open up a 0-4 to nil lead early on with Con O’Callaghan also in fine form.

It was the 16th minute before Offaly got on the board but it was worth the wait with Keith O’Neill rifling over a beauty from the outside of his right boot.

The Gracefield clubman showed an array of skills and he surpassed his previous effort with an exquisite mark, again off the outside of the right peg, from 35 yards.

That only served to stir the Dubs, however, with the resultant kick-out from Stephen Cluxton eventually ending up in the hands of Mannion and he fed O’Callaghan, who dispatched it low to beat Offaly goalkeeper Ian Duffy.

It was 1-6 to 0-2 midway through the first half but Offaly could have had a rare Leinster SFC goal against Cluxton just minutes later only for Mannion to show yet another of his skills with a brilliant block on John Furlong from close-range.

O’Neill fired over a lovely point off his left boot to close out the half but the Dubs had kicked on before then to leave it at 1-10 to 0-4 before a quick-fire salvo upon the resumption.

They put 1-2 on the board within 90 seconds, as if they were almost toying with the Faithful, as O’Callaghan set up Niall Scully for a tidy team goal.

It was 2-12 to 0-5 by the 39th minute and it threatened to get ugly but Kelly’s side dug their heels in with captain Lee Pearson reinforcing the efforts of O’Neill and attacking colleague Dylan Hyland to at least keep Dublin honest.

The sides actually shared the next 10 points, 2-17 to 0-10, before the Dubs slipped it into overdrive with the finish line approaching. Colm Basquel rounded off an impressive individual showing with an injury-time goal in what was the latest illustration of their monopoly on the Leinster SFC.

SCORERS – Dublin: C Basquel 1-3 (2f), C O’Callaghan 1-2, N Scully 1-1, C Costello 0-4 (2f), P Mannion 0-3, L O’Dell, J Small 0-2 each, C Murphy, C Kilkenny, B Fenton, K McGinnis, S MacMahon 0-1 each. Offaly: D Hyland 0-5 (2f, 0-1 ‘45), K O’Neill 0-3 (0-1 mark), L Pearson, J Hayes, C Flynn 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton 7; M Fitzsimons 6, S MacMahon 8, C Murphy 7; T Lahiff 6, J Small 8, E Murchan 6; B Fenton 7, J McCarthy 6; N Scully 7, C Costello 7, C Kilkenny 7; P Mannion 8, C O’Callaghan 8, C Basquel 8. Subs: L O’Dell 7 for O’Callaghan and K McGinnis 7 for Costello (both 53), R McGarry 6 for Mannion and D Newcombe 6 for Murchan (both 55), T Clancy 6 for McCarthy (63).

OFFALY: I Duffy 7; L Pearson 7, D Hogan 6, D Dempsey 6; C Egan 6, P Cunningham 6, J Furlong 7; E Carroll 6, J McEvoy 6; K O’Neill 9, R McNamee 5, J Hayes 6; N Poland 5, J Bryant, D Hyland 8. Subs: C Flynn 7 for McNamee and R Egan 6 for Poland (both half-time), K McDermott 6 for Bryant (54), C Donoghue 6 for McEvoy (59), J O’Brien for O’Neill (66).

REF: P Faloon (Down)

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