Six mouthwatering marking duels set for Fitzgibbon Cup final
It all boils down to this one.
DCU's rise to the peak of college hurling has been meteoric. The Glasnevin University won their first ever Fitzgibbon Cup game in February 2015. Fast forward three productive, explosive years and they're preparing for the final.
Hard work, ambition, a dream. Those over DCU GAA saw an opportunity and they've gone after it relentlessly. Look at how far it's gotten them. Look how short it's taken them.
They will go into the Mallow decider against a star-studded UL outfit on February 24 as underdogs, but you get the impression Eoin Roche, Nick Weir and the rest of their management team wouldn't want it any other way.
UL, traditional powerhouses of this competition have a cause to fight for as well. Three years without a title is no drought in lay college's terms. In UL, the expectations are different.
The DCU one isn't half bad either.
While every player has a vital role to play, some have the ability to change it just like that.
The duels of the day
Eoghan O'Donnell V Jason Forde
The Dublin full back is everything to DCU's chances in this one. Minding the house and ensuring UL's dynamite goal threat is limited as much as possible will be down to the Whitehall Colmcille man.
Against DIT in Parnell Park, the Business student was a brick wall in the last line. He didn't let the opposition get a sniff at Oisin Foley's goals. At one stage in the first half, he flattened Dublin teammate Fiontan McGibb who had flicked the ball over Conor Delaney's head.
This laid down a marker. This is what he's about. That's what DCU are about.
In the final, he will pick up the competition's most consistent forward in the last three years, in Tipperary's Jason Forde. It will be the duel of the day. These lads will be neck and neck in terms of strength, but the athletic O'Donnell might just edge Forde for pace.
It will be so crucial to DCU's chances that he's the safe house he normally is. Likewise, for UL, their main scoring threat has been on song to this stage. Without his scores, they wouldn't be here. If he has a quiet day, they may struggle.
John Donnelly V Conor Cleary
DCU's Kilkenny man has endured an up and down Fitzgibbon campaign so far. Against Mary I in the quarter final, he was called ashore before the half-time whistle after he struggled to get involved in the game.
It was a different story on Monday in Parnell Park, when Donnelly was DCU's most effective forward. His flowing wrists were at their silky best from the word go. He picked off three points in a productive showing, but also fought hard alongside Patrick Curran in a two man full forward line that fought hard for everything that came near them.
He's a weapon in the air, and despite lacking a yard of pace, he compensates for it with his sharp hurling brain and instinctive skill.
It will more than likely be Clare senior Conor Cleary who stands on his heels in the Cork showpiece. The pair are two similar, evenly matched players. The competition for the dropping ball will be ferocious.
Peter Hogan V any UL defender
It really is amazing that the Waterford senior can't force his way into the DCU starting 15. But, perhaps Roche and Weir see his lightening pace and massive goal threat as a game changer from the bench with games in the melting pot.
He did exactly that in Donnycarney against DIT, copper-fastening the game within minutes of his introduction with an opportunistic goal.
If he doesn't force his way into the starting line-up, the supersub can turn the tide in DCU's favour if they're still in touch.
The UL defence may be tiring late on, they'll want to be clued in to keep him at bay.
John McGrath V Conor McSweeney
The Loughmore-Castleiney forward shouldn't need any introduction. One of the slickest hurlers in the country, the UL captain has all the skills of John Donnelly above, but crucially, he has pace to boot, too.
Makes the game look so, so easy. His first touch never lets him down, he's deadly accurate, well able to give the perfect pass and could conceivably beat DCU on his own.
Corner backs Conor McSweeney will have a big job on their hands to keep him quiet.
Ronan Lynch V Donal Burke
The Na Piarsaigh club man didn't start in UL's semi-final victory over IT Carlow, but Gary Kirby was quick to call upon him after DJ Carey's side looked dangerous early on.
Fresh from Saturday's club semi-final win, Lynch is kept busy on many fronts but his value to the Limerick college in the half back line can't be understated.
He's one of the best strikers in the game, and though he's well known for roaming forward and picking off scores, it will be crucial to his side's chances that he holds his position marks DCU's dangerous half forward line tightly.
He may pick up Donal Burke, who's been DCU's best forward in the competition so far. He'll need to focus on the defensive side of his game for that one.
He hit DIT for a bullet early goal in the semi. That's what he's about.
VIDEO CREDIT: Jerome Quinn media.
Tony Kelly V Joe O'Connor
We all know what Tony Kelly is about. Direct-running, ball-winning, pace from deep, winning games.
Wexford man Joe O'Connor has been flying it for DCU in their campaign to date. He's well able to pick off a long-range scores, and sprays inviting balls into his forwards.
Both are more attacking midfielders than defenders, so it will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out.
Bring on the 24th.
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