Dublin’s under-21s now thriving after half-hearted beginnings

County target sixth Leinster title in last eight years

This weekend Dublin footballers are in pursuit of a sixth Leinster under-21 football title in eight years and will play Kildare in the provincial final. During that period the county has won three All-Irelands and players involved in those teams have gone on to play in successful senior sides in recent years.

Current senior boss Jim Gavin cut his intercounty teeth at this level and, with selector Declan Darcy, played a part in coaching the county's first All-Ireland winners at the grade, managed by Tommy Lyons in 2003 before taking over in their own right for the successful seasons of 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Although Dublin are top of the Leinster roll of honour with 12 titles, the county – surprisingly – didn’t even enter the championship for two periods at the end of the 1970s and 1980s.

Kevin Heffernan, the great manager of that era, wasn't particularly enamoured of the age grade, and in those periods Dublin opted to concentrate on the junior championship rather than participate in the under-21s.


Current county CEO John Costello's administrative career began back in that era when he was assistant to Jim King. He recalls some of the thinking in the 1980s.

“There was a feeling that it cut across the senior [club] championship, which at that time was run off fairly early, and so there were problems with access to players.”

Unsurprisingly in the circumstances, Dublin took a long time to achieve success at under-21, reaching a couple of All-Ireland finals but not winning until Alan Brogan’s team defeated Tyrone in the 2003 final.

Costello says that the current attitude is greatly different and has fed into success at the top level. “Aside from the managerial experience picked up by Jim Gavin and Declan Darcy, the actual All-Ireland-winning teams have all provided players at senior level. It doesn’t really cause any major difficulties these days because it’s not a protracted championship like the hurling [under-21], which runs through the summer.

Great continuity

“The season can be complex enough managing all the competitions at third level, but once they’re over there’s a great continuity to the season and teams can pick up momentum playing regularly and not having the same training-to-games ratio that causes problems at other levels.”

He says that notwithstanding the county’s success at under-21, the decision to back the move to an under-20 championship at this year’s congress didn’t cause too much agonising. “With minor level switching to under-17 there were going to be natural adjustments to make and the main challenge for us and other counties will be how to restructure our club competitions at under-age.”

Meanwhile, Ulster Council will consider its response to incidents in Wednesday night's provincial under-21 championship semi-final between Tyrone and Donegal once the report of referee Barry Cassidy has been received.

"The referee's report is not yet in," said Ulster GAA CEO Danny Murphy. "We will probably have it on Friday."

He also said that the provincial council would review video evidence if necessary to investigate incidents of disorder at the end of the match, which was won by Tyrone and during which Donegal had two players sent off for second yellow cards.

“That decision will be made after we have considered the report,” said Murphy. “If we need further insight into what the referee reports or if the council decides it wishes to investigate other matters not necessarily mentioned in the report, we can watch the video.”

Verbal abuse

There had been controversy between the counties last year at minor level with accusations of verbal abuse made against Tyrone by Donegal. After the match Tyrone manager Fergal Logan told teamtalkmag.com: "It was probably more than a game of football, that match to me for a significant reason, dating back to the way that some Donegal officials dealt with some stuff last summer.

“It was more than game of football to me and I’m just delighted to win it.”

Finally, the GAA's Central Hearings Committee has cleared Crossmaglen Rangers of any charges relating to incidents during their All-Ireland club semi-final against Castlebar Mitchels. In a statement issued on foot of last week's meeting on March 23rd, the committee decided that the Armagh club had no case to answer, as the infraction had not been proved.

The statement also confirmed that both Kerry and Donegal had been fined €5,000 for “disruptive conduct” of players during March’s league meeting between the counties in Tralee. The Central Competition Controls Committee had proposed fines of €7,500, but, after the counties had sought a hearing, the punishment was set at €2,500 lower.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times