Dublin to again field experimental team in O’Byrne Cup

Vast majority of Jim Gavin’s All-Ireland winning panel will be unavailable

Dublin will field a “massively experimental” team for next month’s O’Byrne Cup.

The Leinster pre-season football tournament last year resulted in their only loss in an otherwise unbeaten league and championship run which  has now stretched to 29 games.

Manager Jim Gavin will at least get the chance to cast his eye over what will probably be an entirely fresh crop of players – the vast majority of his All-Ireland winning panel unavailable for a variety of reasons.

In other years Dublin have fielded an under-21 selection, although on this occasion Gavin will be sticking with mostly senior players.

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Dublin are drawn in Group One along with Wexford and two college teams, UCD and DCU, their opening game set for Parnell Park against DCU on Sunday, January 8th. College teams have first pick on county players and that already denies Gavin a handful of players.

The main reason however is that the majority of the Dublin players will be absent due to the team holiday to Jamaica, for the first week in January, while others, such as Cuala hurler Con O’Callaghan and the St Vincent’s contingent are unlikely to be available as they’re focusing on their preparations for the All-Ireland club semi-finals in February.

Dublin emerged from their group last year, only to be beaten at the semi-final stage by Longford, 1-12 to 0-9; that remains the only non-league or championship defeat in that 29-game unbeaten run which goes back to March 2015.

Competitive outing

After their opening game against DCU on January 8th (that game being played as a double-header in Parnell Park with the Walsh Cup hurling meeting between Dublin, the defending champions, and Carlow), the Dublin footballers are also at home the following Wednesday night against UCD, then finish up their Group One campaign away to Wexford on Sunday January 15th.

That game marks the first competitive outing for their new Wexford manager Séamus McEnaney.

It has s also been confirmed that Dublin’s footballers and hurlers will be part of the New Year’s Day Blue Stars challenge games on Sunday January 1st, also in Parnell Park, starting with the hurling (12.30) and then the football (2.30).

The 2017 O’Byrne Cup will represent the first time intercounty players get to grips with the introduction of the ‘mark’ in Gaelic football, and the Leinster Council have also confirmed that to help facilitate the experimental line-up of most panels it has decided that there will be no limit on the number of substitutions allowed.

Group Three of the O’Byrne Cup will also mark the first outing of new Meath manager Andy McEntee, with a home clash against Wicklow. Meath are reigning champions and also have Laois and DIT in their group.

Group Two consists of Kildare, Offaly, Longford, and IT Carlow, while Group Four includes Westmeath, Louth, Carlow and Maynooth University.

Group One winners will play the winners of Group Two, and the winners of Group Three will play the winners of Group Four in the semi-finals (January 22nd), with the final set for Sunday January 29th.

Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody, back in charge for a 19th season, also intends on fielding a senior team, with the exception of their opening game against DCU, on Thursday January 5th.

The team are heading to San Diego on their holiday over the New Year and won’t be back until that weekend.

“The under-21s or something will play that,” said Cody. “Then we’ll play the rest of them.”

FIXTURES

Bord na Móna Walsh Cup SH/O’Byrne Cup SF

Thursday January 5th

Walsh Cup round 1: Kilkenny v DCU, Dunmore, 7.30pm

Saturday January 7th

O’Byrne Cup round 1: Kildare v Longford, Newbridge, 2pm

Sunday January 8th

O’Byrne Cup round 1

Wexford v UCD, Enniscorthy, 2pm

Offaly v IT Carlow, O’Connor Park, 2pm

Meath v Wicklow, Páirc Tailteann, 2pm

Laois v DIT, Portarlington, 2pm

Westmeath v Louth, Cusack Park, 2pm

Carlow v NUI Maynooth, Netwatch Cullen Park, 2pm

Dublin v DCU, Parnell Park, 4pm

Walsh Cup round 1

Galway v DIT, Ballinasloe, 2pm

Laois v NUIG, Abbeyleix, 2pm

Westmeath v Antrim, Kinnegad, 2pm

Dublin v Carlow, Parnell Park, 2pm

Wexford v UCD, Gorey, 2pm

Meath v Offaly, Trim, 2pm

Kildare v IT Carlow, Newbridge, 2pm

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics