Fergal Whitely is optimistic about the county’s Under-21s chances of going deep in the championship this year, as he heads into his final season qualifying for the panel.
The sky blues get underway in this year’s Championship against Laois on May 26, with their potential pathway to the latter stages of the tournament already largely mapped out for them. Should Dublin overcome Laois, they will face the winner of Ulster v Carlow in the second round, with Westmeath already awaiting the Dubs at the quarter final stage.
Whitely – fresh from hitting a fantastic goal off the floor for the senior side against Kilkenny over the weekend – admits to the Dublin Gazette that last year’s first round loss is weighing a little on his mind, and the side will be looking to go far further.
“There’s a new manager, which is a change, but there are some of the same faces as last year, when we lost in the first round, which meant we only played one game,” he recalls, referencing the appointment of Crumlin man Paul O’Brien.
“We’ve never played Laois at under age or minor level, but obviously we’re aware they have some good young players. Hopefully we can go on a run, as we’ve never won an Under-21 title.”
Whitely admits that hurling has become a dominant force in his life over recent years, particularly with the full-forward appearing for a number of different sides in close order.
“It can get fairly full on, playing for Crokes, Dublin, the under-21 side and college,” he admits.
“As long as you’re enjoying it, though, I think it’s fine. And I’m enjoying it.
“It’s about keeping a balance of freshness and getting in the training. If it becomes a heavy slog, that’s a problem, but people have been really understanding about my commitments. The new senior format will give more opportunities for more people to play games, and we’re all looking to get a chance.
“The main difference between the seniors and the Under-21s is the physicality,” he continues. “There are a lot of players in their mid to late 20s, and a lot of managers put an emphasis on bulking up. You’re definitely aware of it.”
There’s been some training crossover between the squads this year, however, which Whitely and the Under-21s have found particularly helpful.
“We’ve played some challenge matches against the seniors, and they’re good games to get.
“It’s good for team bonding and getting some time playing together, which is hard with the Under-21s, and it means the managers get a look at both sides.
“I’ve been with some of these lads since 2013/2014, and for a few of us this is the last year. There’s definitely a huge appetite for it this year.”
As well as the Under-21s, Whitely feels his club Kilmacud Crokes aren’t too far off something special.
“Obviously it’s hard with Cuala, they’re an outstanding team,” he says.
“But we were only three points off when we played them last year, and they went on to win an All Ireland.
“It shows that we’re close to where we need to be as a club. Maybe this year we can go one better.”