herald

Thursday 25 May 2017

Dublin clubs tighten Leinster vice grip

Resilient Rhode face a giant task to end Faithful's 30-year famine

St Vincent’s are led out by their captain Diarmuid Connolly ahead of the recent AIB Leinster Club SFC semi-final against St Columba’s at Glennon Bros Pearse Park in Longford Pic: Sportsfile
St Vincent’s are led out by their captain Diarmuid Connolly ahead of the recent AIB Leinster Club SFC semi-final against St Columba’s at Glennon Bros Pearse Park in Longford Pic: Sportsfile

No manager has come closer than Tom Coffey to ending a famine now stretching to three full decades, since Ferbane became the last Faithful bastion to win the AlB Leinster club senior football championship in 1986.

Coffey was manager of Rhode when they lost a brace of provincial finals in the space of three seasons, vanquished by the same opponent (Kilmacud Crokes) in 2008 and 2010.

Rhode are now back in another Leinster showpiece this Sunday, facing St Vincent's in Portlaoise (2.0). It will be their fifth decider since '06; they have lost all previous four.

Three of those defeats came against a Dublin heavyweight - a further sign of the capital's increasing stranglehold on this competition.

Clinically

If Vincent's frank their 2/11 favouritism against opponents whom they clinically dispatched in the 2014 final, it will complete a Leinster five-in-a-row for Dublin champions, who will have landed eight of the last ten titles.

Rhode’s Alan McNamee competes with Seán O’Mahony’s Conor Martin and Conor Crawley during the Leinster Club SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Rhode’s Alan McNamee competes with Seán O’Mahony’s Conor Martin and Conor Crawley during the Leinster Club SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

This strike-rate is unprecedented. Suffice to say, this Sky Blue monopoly is not just happening at inter-county level.

"It's similar to Leinster football," says Coffey. "It appears that the gap is widening the whole time."

Only one Leinster rival has toppled Dublin champions in this period: Garrycastle of Westmeath against Ballyboden St Enda's in a 2009 semi and St Brigid's in the 2011 final.

Perhaps the one consolation - for those pretenders beyond the Pale - is that the actual margins tend to be a lot tighter at club level. Dublin clubs have prevailed by one point (Ballyboden v Portlaoise in 2015); ten points (Vincent's v Rhode '14); three (Vincent's v Portlaoise '13); three again (Ballymun v Portlaoise '12); five (Kilmacud v Rhode '10); three (Kilmacud v Rhode '08); and seven (Vincent's v Tyrrellspass '07).

While winter conditions may be a factor, it's fair to surmise that the Sky Blue carnage usually witnessed in June/July has yet to become a feature of the club scene.

But, according to Coffey, Dublin champions tend to start with several obvious advantages.

It all begins with demographics - this year's Census showed Dublin's population to have risen to 1.345 million.

"The clubs appear to be getting bigger," he says. "Lots of players from around the country are getting employment in Dublin, then deciding to play football in Dublin.

"You never get that in the rural clubs. It's going to be very hard to compete, talent-wise number one, then with the professionalism and funds put into Dublin clubs."

And yet Rhode have consistently tried to do just that. For Coffey, not surprisingly, 2008 ranks as the one that got away: they led 14-man Kilmacud by six points at half-time only for a series of second half calamities to produce a nine-point turnaround.

Back in 1986, Ferbane were the fourth Offaly club to conquer Leinster, following the lead of Gracefield (the inaugural winners of the 1970-71 competition) and back-to-back champions Walsh Island. As Rhode seek to bridge that 30-year chasm, Coffey is enthused by their talent base, age profile and management of his one-time player, Paschal Kellaghan.

He gives them a chance on Sunday, albeit not disguising the magnitude of their task.

"They're the only club in Offaly that would set out at the beginning of the year to win the championship - and then Leinster," he says. "Most other clubs would be happy enough to win the (Offaly) championship and take whatever comes."

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