Kilmacud break Na Fianna’s hearts and give warning there’s much more to come

Ronan Hayes’s return of 1-14 helps Stillorgan side stage remarkable fightback

Kilmacud Crokes 4-26 Na Fianna 2-25 (after extra-time)

Kieran Dowling was sitting in an apartment in Cyprus for the 2018 Dublin SHC final, enjoying the sun if not the news coming from Parnell Park.

He’d been part of the Crokes management for the 2016 and 2017 final defeats and listened in 12 months later as Anthony Daly’s crew came up short against Ballyboden, securing an unwanted three-in-a-row.

Since that 2018 final, goalkeeper Matt Collins, Niall Corcoran, Ryan O'Dwyer, Ross O'Carroll and Seán McGrath – all former intercounty players – have left the club.

For most clubs, that would have meant a frustrating period of rebuilding but here Crokes are now, Dublin champions again and, crucially, with a brilliant young team that looks like it will be around for some time to come.

Four Crokes players – Brian Sheehy, Cian Ó Cathasaigh, Pádhraic Linehan and Dara Purcell – that featured in Saturday's extra-time epic, lit up by the excellence of Ronan Hayes who contributed 1-14 overall, played for Dublin in July's Leinster under-20 hurling final. A fifth – goalkeeper Eddie Gibbons – was in Dublin's goals for the delayed 2020 All-Ireland under-20 final which also took place in July.

Many of the Crokes players have experienced success with nearby feeder school Coláiste Eoin while the Crokes minors captured three Dublin A hurling titles in a row between 2018 and 2020.

Plenty to suggest then that this was no flash in the pan from the Stillorgan men.

“Well, you look at the talent that’s there in Dublin – Na Fianna have won minors and U-21s against us, we’ve won some against them, but they’ve been coming and they’re not going to go away,” said Dowling. “Cuala are rebuilding, Ballyboden are rebuilding, Judes and Vincents are rebuilding, it’s not easy to win Dublin anymore. The days of two or three teams dominating are over.

“Good teams win one, great teams win more than one and we need to become the team who can come back again but it will be a challenge and it will not be easy.”

For much of Saturday evening, it looked like this would be a report about Na Fianna’s coming of age and their maiden title success. The Mobhi Road club won four Dublin minor titles between 2014 and 2017 and with a nine-point lead after 51 minutes, following county man Donal Burke’s second goal, they appeared virtually home and hosed.

It all turned terribly sour for them, however, with Crokes outscoring them by 3-1 to 0-1 to force extra-time and then winning the additional period by 0-8 to 0-1. In all, Crokes registered 3-9 to Na Fianna’s 0-2 after the Burke goal.

Hayes was the central character because while he miscued a penalty attempt in the 55th minute, when Crokes trailed by seven points, he redeemed himself with their fourth goal five minutes into stoppage-time to force extra-time.

The speedy Dublin forward accounted for six of Crokes’ eight points in the extra 20 minutes.

"I remember I played Ronan in his first league match as a senior – he never gives up," said Dowling, son of former GAA president John Dowling. "That first day he caught a ball in the last minute out of a scrum, turned and buried it to draw the match for us. No matter what's happening to Ronan, he will always do the right thing. He will always go for the next ball, he won't stop."

Crokes will play Westmeath’s Raharney in the Leinster quarter-finals on November 28th in Mullingar. Before then, the club will shoot for a historic double of Dublin senior titles with the footballers playing St Judes in that decider next Sunday. Rising star Sheehy is part of both panels.

KILMACUD CROKES: E Gibbons; B O'Carroll, D Crowe (0-1), B Sheehy; C MacGabhann, M Grogan, P Linehan; L McMullan (0-2), D Mulligan; C Conway (0-3), F Whitely (1-1), D Purcell (0-1); O O'Rorke (1-3), R Hayes (1-14, eight frees, one 65), A Considine (1-1).

Subs: M Howard for Purcell (42), S Veale for Conway (47), C Ó Cathasaigh for MacGabhann (50), J Clinton for O'Carroll (extra-time), Purcell for Whitely (h/t e/t), J Dillon for Considine (76).

NA FIANNA: J Treacy; S Burke, K Burke (0-1), S Baxter; F Breathnach, D Ryan, L Rushe (0-1); P O'Dea (0-1), P Feeney (0-1); M Murphy (0-2), S Currie (0-8, one s/l), D Burke (2-7, six frees); S Barrett (0-1), AJ Murphy (0-2), C Currie (0-1).

Subs: C McHugh for Baxter (41), M Quilty for Feeney, C Kelly for S Burke (both 50), E McHugh for AJ Murphy (57), H Fenlon for O'Dea (62), K Murphy for M Murphy (67), S Ryan for C Currie (70).

Referee: C Mooney.