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Friday 24 January 2020

Ballyboden pass up crack at greatness and could struggle to return

Conal Keaney chases after Eugene Branagan in the All-Ireland club semi-final last Saturday
Conal Keaney chases after Eugene Branagan in the All-Ireland club semi-final last Saturday

The only real solace for Ballyboden in Breffni Park as they exited the All-ireland club championship at the semi-final stage on Saturday evening was that at least they didn't have to wait until February.

Shoe-horned into an unseasonably warm January as part of a holding pattern that will, finally, see the All-Ireland club championships played off in the same year, there was no lack of drama or entertainment over the weekend for its earlier-than-customary staging.

On the contrary.

But the stinging truth for Ballyboden was that having foregone the pleasures of Christmas to prepare for Kilcoo, they missed an opportunity to change their legacy from that of a single All-Ireland winning team into repeat champions - the preserve of the great club sides.

Granted, that would have required the subsequent beating of Corofin, perhaps the greatest club side of them all.

But given the vibrancy of their last appearance in Croke Park in the 2016 decider against Castlebar Mitchels, when they won what was considered beforehand to be an even match by 13 points, not an implausible prospect.

Their other deep regret was that for all Kilcoo's palpable sense of purpose and clinical goal-finishing, Ballyboden still had their chances.

Fatal

Afterwards, Anthony Rainbow revealed that all year, his team's conversation rate had been somewhere between 70 and 75 per cent.

Their 11 scores from 23 attempts in Cavan on Saturday represented a fatal drop to just under 48 per cent.

Missed frees. Skewed 45s. A snatched goal chance.

They ticked each unwanted box at precisely the times when a score could have given them the impetus required to test Kilcoo's self-confidence.

The disappointment over the coming days will be realising such a chance might not present itself again any time soon.

After their All-Ireland victory in 2016, Ballyboden won just a single championship game over the next two years.

Such a lull is improbable now as the team have established a remarkably high level of consistency under Rainbow in the league over the past two years.

But with such rich competition, no team from the capital can make plans for Leinster or an All-Ireland in the same way as Kilcoo's players sought out the expertise of Mickey Moran to help them win an Ulster title, having reduced the Down championship to their own personal fiefdom.

Granted, Boden possess a young, athletic team.

Many of whom are inter- county standard in almost any county but Dublin.

They also have a battalion of proven winners.

Ten of the players who started the 2016 All-Ireland final played for Ballyboden in some capacity on Saturday night.

But some of their key men are in their thirties.

Ballyboden's starting midfield on Saturday night; Michael Darragh Macauley and Declan O'Mahoney, had a combined age of 68.

Veterans

Similarly, Conal Keaney is 37 and contributed a point and one assist against Kilcoo.

It must be said that those players remain hugely influential. But their age (and in Keaney's case, hurling commitments) won't allow too many more chances unless Balyboden win back-to-back titles in Dublin later this year.

Between the influence of those veterans, the scintillating form of Collie Basquel and the chemistry derived from having close to a full panel throughout the summer, 'Boden appeared a strong package since the beginning of the year.

On Saturday evening, Rainbow made no commitment as to his future but after losing Andy McEntee and their way in the immediate aftermath of 2016, Boden would surely benefit now from stability.

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