Patrick’s Day will see country’s best clubs playing for town, village and posterity
Mount Leinster’s rise a fairy-tale but Portumna more likely to have happy ending
Richard Coady and fellow Mount Leinster Rangers players celebrate after the Carlow club had beaten Loughiel Shamrocks at Páirc Esler in Newry to earn a place in Monday’s All-Ireland Senior Club Champinship final in Croke Park. Photograph: John McIlwaine/Inpho/Presseye
What a feast of Gaelic games we have on the weekend in which we celebrate our national saint’s feast day. The Allianz leagues take pride of place on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday the senior clubs take centre stage at headquarters.
The late Jack Mahon, Galway footballer in the 1950s and later well known as a writer and sports historian, wrote a well-researched history of the club All-Irelands entitled For the Love of Town and Village .
Jack wove a fascinating story around many of the people, clubs and games of the first 30 years of the club finals. He travelled the length and breadth of the country to interview many of the central characters in his book.
In his foreword he describes being led, on a sharp spring morning, by a fox all the way from Len Gaynor’s house in Kilruane to the main road, spending an evening with the lovely Loughiel people in the Pound Bar deep in the Glens of Antrim, meeting John Fenton as he talked of his beloved Midleton, talking to the proud Tony Doran of Buffers Alley and Fan Larkin of the Village, and Timmy Delaney singing Lovely Fair Ileigh in the back kitchen of Biddy Stapleton’s friendly hostelry in Borrisoleigh.
Of course all of the great clubs of that era are included. My own club, St Finbarrs, have a chapter entitled The boys in Blue which recalls stories from the five titles won by the club.
I remember well my first year playing in the final (against Rathnure in 1978) and the excitement that was in the club leading up to the semi-final and final, which were played on successive days in late March of that year (not much fixture planning success then either).
The women’s committee cooked for us every night after training, flags and banners decorated the club. There were crowds at training. It was big stuff in the Togher area on the south side of Cork city.
Many of the successful clubs of that era are still very competitive but others have fallen on hard times and are no longer featuring in the history books.
It’s interesting ( if you’re a Corkonian) to note that in the first 10 years of the hurling competition Cork teams were successful on seven occasions and the most titled team of the period, Blackrock, also lost a final.
But in the last 30 years only Midleton and Newtownshandrum have won titles. Surely a message somewhere.
Looking through the history of the senior club competitions it’s also interesting to see Dublin’s Crumlin were Leinster hurling champions in the mid 1970s and Four Roads and Tremane from Roscommon representing Connacht in the same period.
We all love to see the underdog achieving and this is the first time in the history of this prestigious competition a team from Carlow will proudly race out on to Croke Park’s exceptional sod on senior final day. What a fairy-tale journey it has been for Mount Leinster Rangers: winning the All-Ireland Intermediate crown in 2012 and reaching the senior showpiece two years later.
So what are the chances the fairy-tale will have a happy ending and we’ll read the headline on Tuesday’s papers “MLRs will live happily ever after”?
Croke Park factor
How far will enthusiasm, hunger, desire and the never-say-die attitude take them? How will they handle the Croke Park factor? What part will tradition (or lack of it )play?
They go into the game as underdogs and without the pressure favouritism brings. The wider hurling world would love to see them victorious but few think they have a realistic chance.
As in all finals the star players have a vital role but the rest of the players have an even more important role. How many of the key battles will the rest win?
Portumna, on the other hand, go into the final as overwhelming favourites. Many of them have played in Croke Park on senior final day; this is their fifth final since 2006.They have one of the best hurlers of the generation in Joe Canning. They have experience . . .
The same wider public, while they would love to see them beaten (for the greater good, you know) think they’ll win.
But the most important variable in all of this is that no matter how their management try and guard against complacency, the players (while they are saying otherwise) can’t really envisage themselves losing the game.
Where are they going to draw that edge from that will see them dictate the game and never allow Mount Leinster a chance to develop a confidence they will badly need at the start of the game? Or are they going to take ownership of proceedings from the off and never allow Mount Leinster to build any bit of confidence? Obviously there are many possibilities as to how this game will play out.
So which team will win ? Well Portumna won a very competitive Galway championship and beat a good Na Piarsaigh team in the All-Ireland semi-final, while Mount Leinster were, after a shaky start, easily the best in the Carlow championship and won a highly competitive Leinster championship and also beat the champions of 2012 in their All-Ireland semi.
On form, these teams are fairly evenly matched.
They have both had impressive semi-final performances. But as Cheltenham week canters to a finish the vastly experienced thoroughbreds from the west should be first past the post on Monday – even if it is in a photo finish.