Boden to scale Mount summit
But focus must be spot-on to prevent dogfight
ON paper the reinstated kings of Dublin hurling couldn't have asked for more – one solid hour's shift to make a Leinster final and just Carlow's finest blocking their way.
True, Ballyboden St Enda's have been given just a week to recover from their county final exertions but when there is only one obstacle standing between you and a provincial final, you've got to say the draw has been kind. Especially when that fence wasn't constructed in Kilkenny, Offaly or Wexford.
All of which may sound unfair on Mount Leinster Rangers, who are not exactly callow greenhorns when it comes to club combat beyond their native heath.
And yet local paper The Carlow Nationalist captured the prevailing underdog mood this week, one of hope rather than confidence, when concluding its match preview thus: "Against the Westmeath champions there was expectation. Here there is relatively little. If they perform, the Dublin champions could be caught. The heart says Rangers. The head says Ballyboden."
The flip side is that, if Boden heads aren't right they could be sucked into a dogfight on unfamiliar terrain and pay a heavy price.
For, as alluded to above, Mount Leinster deserve respect.
They have annexed six of the last eight Carlow SHC titles, starting with their maiden triumph in 2006. They recently completed their first three-in-a-row.
Beyond Carlow they've had mixed results without ever being subjected to embarrassment. Two weeks ago, they recovered from six down against Castletown-Geoghegan to achieve their first victory in the Leinster SHC by 1-15 to 1-13.
In their three previous senior campaigns, they fell at the first hurdle but never succumbed by more than six points, losing to Craobh Chiaráin of Dublin by 2-9 to 0-9 (2006), the mighty Ballyhale Shamrocks by 1-14 to 0-11 (2007) and eventual All-Ireland finalists Kilcormac-Killoughey by 1-11 to 0-9 last winter.
Sandwiched in between those last two senior forays, they regraded to intermediate and duly became the first Carlow winners of an All-Ireland club hurling title in February 2012. They reached that peak the hard way, coming from five points down with 14 men to eke out a two-point win over Middletown of Armagh.
The key difference here, however, is that Boden would easily account for the Armagh county team, let alone their club standard-bearers.
They will feature four players who started for Dublin in their historic Leinster final success last July (Gary Maguire, Stephen Hiney, Conal Keaney and Paul Ryan) along with two of Dublin's subs that day, Shane Durkin and Conor McCormack. They have virtually monopolised the county championship since their breakthrough title in 2007, with five-in-a-row followed by last year's blip and then last Sunday's 0-13 to 0-10 victory over Lucan Sarsfields.
It wasn't their most fluent performance, but the platform was created by a dominant half-back line (of Hiney, Durkin and Conor Robinson) and the team's overall superiority in terms of physique and experience.
When the mere threat of an upset reared its head during the second half Keaney's blue-chip quality revealed itself. Even after Maurice Nagle's double-yellow dismissal, 14 men kept their focus.
Now the focus turns to that tantalising Leinster prize. You might argue that Boden were at their peak a few years back; that their best chance of provincial silverware has come and gone.
But while their previous record in the competition has been underwhelming – just one losing final appearance, to Birr in 2007 at O'Connor Park, Tullamore – this year's provincial draw offers a window of opportunity. One they should grasp, tomorrow.
BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Mount Leinster 10/3, Draw 11/1, Ballyboden St Enda's 1/4
VERDICT: Ballyboden St Enda's