Ballyboden look to be firing on all cylinders
Dublin champions are favourites to add a second Leinster title in five years
Éire Óg manager Joe Murphy was part of a remarkable 1990s team. Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon/Inpho
This comes with a fair bit of history, not between the finalists but in Éire Óg’s track record against Dublin champions in their 1990s heyday. It was a remarkable decade in which the Carlow town club made off with half of the Leinster titles; the other half was divided among Dublin teams.
Three times Éire Óg went through the Dublin champions, beating Erin’s Isle, St Sylvester’s and Kilmacud Crokes – the last over three matches. Sadly they never managed an All-Ireland even though they came close in the replayed 1993 final.
Although these events took place 20 years ago, they still resonate and anyone who watched the cut and dash of the semi-final defeat of Portlaoise on their home patch would be aware of the confidence inspired by a tradition embodied in the prominence of second-generation names: O’Brien, Morrissey, Quinlan and Hayden.
They are managed by Joe Murphy, who in his own playing days once reassured a concerned manager after a heavy challenge defeat that it would be all right – their toughest tests would be in Carlow; once out they’d take care of Leinster.
Ballyboden are fuelled by more contemporary achievement. All-Ireland winners four seasons ago, they were the form team in Dublin this campaign and their progress through Leinster has been untroubled by stressful moments.
In the county final, Thomas Davis set up against them with containment and counter-attack in mind but never managed to catch out their opponents and in the provincial matches Ballyboden’s defence has been more than vigilant with plenty of room for pushing forward from the back – a role in which Robbie McDaid excelled in the surprisingly one-sided semi-final defeat of Garrycastle.
This will be a different type of challenge. The Carlow side have had the more testing progress, recording impressive wins over Kildare and Laois champions – on both occasions as underdogs – and they have the memory of last year’s semi-final cuffing by surprise ultimate champions Mullinalaghta.
They are emphatically outsiders again this weekend. Whereas their previous opponents had question marks up front – Portlaoise overly relying on Brian McCormack and Sarsfields missing Ben McCormack – the Dublin champions have been very much firing on all cylinders.
The marquee names are the Basquel brothers, Colm and Ryan, but manager Anthony Rainbow was keen to point out after the county final that their attack had more strings to its bow than the obvious ones.
That was borne out in the first-half incineration of Garrycastle – former provincial winners – during which they registered 11 out of 13 scoring opportunities on a dank November afternoon and over the hour five of the six starting forwards scored from play.
The most striking aspect of Éire Óg’s play is how quickly they can transition from defence into attack and how effective they are at creating scoring opportunity from forward possession. Chris Blake has scored well even if his free taking can be erratic and he is well supplemented by Ross Dunphy and, off the bench, Niall Quinlan.
Ultimately though, they are going to be under significant pressure in the final, compared to any other of their matches. Ballyboden have quality scattered throughout the team.
They have had the recent luxury of bringing on decorated intercounty players as replacements, Conal Keaney and former Footballer of the Year, Michael Darragh MacAuley.
It’s not in Éire Óg’s traditions to turn up not expecting to win but on this occasion after a good season to date, they may have to chalk this down to experience.