Carr: 'Mun could go to Croke Park
Having so many Dublin senior players has been a hindrance to Kickhams over recent seasons
Paddy Carr was finalising preparations for Ballymun Kickhams' training session on the Tuesday after the 2017 All-Ireland final when, to his surprise, James McCarthy and John Small arrived at the club's all-weather pitch.
Ballymun were just ten days shy of their Dublin SFC quarter-final with St Brigid's.
But Carr, naturally enough, was working off the assumption that his All-Ireland winners wouldn't be there, let alone for McCarthy and Small to be the first men through the gates at Collinstown Lane.
"There are fellas who won All-Irelands 40 years ago that are still dining out on it," chuckles Carr, "and here these lads were, two days later, coming back to the club."
Kickhams would go on to that year's final but and were beaten, 1-8 to 0-8, by St Vincent's.
It was mostly felt that the Marino club had won their fourth county title in five years against the head that evening.
Talent-wise, Ballymun clearly had the best squad in the county.
And, clearly, their returning Dublin players didn't lack for commitment either.
But there was a cohesion about St Vincent's that Ballymun seemed to lack, something that has stopped them from adding to their three Dublin SFC titles, the last of which they won in 2012.
"In any team, you have to build momentum," notes Carr now.
"And momentum is built entirely on shared experience. Playing together out on the field.
"It's a very natural thing with the demands in terms of preparation for Dublin senior football level. The club players put an enormous amount in.
"So many of those lads are only one step behind (county level) in terms of ability. So when you're in a situation where you have to very quickly - a matter of days - have to drop up to a third of your team.
"And there's no lead-in to it - you're going straight into a knock-out stage.
"We all know that despite the euphoria of the last number of years with Dublin that these lads are human.
"The presumption that's there that the county players will fit back in seamlessly and that they will lift the performance of the club team - that sometimes takes time to happen."
This year, Ballymun Kickhams contributed six of the 26 of Dublin's All-Ireland final match-day panel.
Three, James McCarthy, John Small and Dean Rock, started both games.
Paddy Small was the first man off the bench in the drawn match while Philly McMahon came on in the replay.
Collectively, those six players possess 30 All-Ireland medals (or at least will do after this year's presentation ceremony) and seven All Stars awards.
Theoretically, that should make them one of the best club teams in Ireland.
In practice, as Carr learned, replacing more than a third of the team with players who are highly fatigued so abruptly has had debilitating effects.
In 2017, James McCarthy had a knee injury. Dean Rock played with a shin problem.
And John Small had serious ankle trouble.
As Carr notes: "A lot of these guys are playing injured for their county."
For that quarter-final against St Brigid's, Car opted to play Seán Currie in goals rather than Evan Comerford who, by that stage. had become Stephen Cluxton's understudy and, technically at least, the number two goalkeeper in the county.
"It was based on the evidence of the performances of the player that we could see playing," explains Carr.
"But effectively it's a whole new team you're picking with minimal collective preparation.
"And that's very difficult. And I've seen it at all levels - the presumption that a county player will come back and is going to replicate the form that they had in the (inter-county) championship for their club.
"And the evidence is there that it rarely happens."
Ballymun play Na Fianna on Friday in Parnell Park (8.15) in the last round of Group 1 of the Dublin SFC in what is effectively a knock-out game.
McCarthy is unlikely to play due to an injury but the other five are expected to be involved.
On paper, they are easily the best team in the competition but the championship's recent history points to a club with a more settled team (ie, with fewer county players to suddenly fit in) to come through these hectic and highly-competitive rounds of the Dublin SFC.
"You can't really say that you have form going into it," Carr outlines.
"Because the team you're putting on the field isn't the team that played the most recent games.
"It's deeply frustrating.
"Because," he concludes, "with Ballymun, you know if you get a run of a few Championship matches, you could go all the way to Croke Park."