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Curran set for happy 'mun day

AT this remove, 24 hours out from the biggest day in the club GAA calendar, we promise to go where no preview has gone before and state boldly – in the very first paragraph – how it's all going to end tomorrow evening. Here goes: the Andy Merrigan Cup will be bedecked in green and red ribbons as it's handed over to the victorious captain!

There, wasn't that easy?

Er, on mature reflection, will it be green and red – or red and green? Or might there be no cup handed over at all, as happened 12 months ago when Crossmaglen and Garrycastle drew at the first time of asking?

FRAUGHT

Flippant fence-sitting aside, the truth is that – as with many All-Ireland club deciders – trying to second-guess the outcome is a pretty fraught business.

For starters, you have two unfamiliar rivals clashing for the first time. Secondly, for at least some of the players at least, it will be a scarily unfamiliar setting.

True, Brigid's played in the 2011 All-Ireland final and many of the current Ballymun team have experienced Croke Park at some county level or other. But they haven't played here for their club, when history is so close they can almost touch it. How will they react to the massive occasion?

Our own hunch is that, if Kickhams hold their nerve and stick to the game-plan that has served them so well, then they can become the fourth All-Ireland winners to emerge from the capital, following in the wake of UCD, St Vincent's and Kilmacud Crokes who have all won it twice.

But there are no guarantees. St Brigid's had already shown themselves to be consistently high-achievers at this elite level, winning three Connacht titles on the spin, before franking their credentials last month.

Any team that beats Crossmaglen – moreover in one of those battles of attrition that Cross' have long specialised in winning – deserves to be treated seriously.

It's a testament to Kevin McStay, who has reinvigorated a team that could have fallen away, feeling sorry for itself, after losing last year's semi-final to Garrycastle.

Yes, they may have rode their luck occasionally last month – not just with that decisive late goal, but even more so with that glorious goal chance spurned by their rivals at the start of the second half – but in truth they deserved it.

How many teams have kept Crossmaglen scoreless for the first 20 minutes of the second half, just when the south Armagh machine is usually starting to grind down the opposition? How many teams would have responded to Cross's three-point would-be winning surge, as they did with Conor McHugh's tap-in goal after some predatory snooping by Frankie Dolan?

Suffice to say, the Kiltoom iconoclasts have already shattered one myth – that Cross can't be toppled in a white-knuckle contest. Now they aim to bury another – that Roscommon clubs are always destined to be the St Patrick's Day bridesmaids.

Compared to Brigid's usurping of the holders, Ballymun's victory over Dr Crokes was less headline-grabbing but carried more technical merit. They won by four and, notwithstanding a saved Crokes penalty, the Dubs would have triumphed by even more if they had capitalised fully on an awesome first 20-plus minutes.

Paul Curran had already ticked so many managerial boxes before that Thurles encounter. He has instilled in his players a county-esque standard of fitness.

EXPLODE

He has them superbly organised (no goal conceded since their Dublin semi-final). He invariably has them tuned in to explode from the first-half blocks. Most tellingly, he has got them to overcome a variety of mental hurdles – believing they could end their 27-year Dublin drought, believing that there's more to achieve beyond a breakthrough county title, believing that underdog odds are there to be bucked.

Against Crokes, Curran revealed a new string to his managerial bow with a tactical shimmy from leftfield – propelling 'footballing full-back' Philly McMahon into a new midfield role. It worked a treat on two fronts, albeit few club managers would have the luxury of recalling such a doggedly accomplished man-marker as Sean George.

George and his fellow inside defenders face another big task tomorrow: stifling two long-established and proven finishers in the veteran Dolan and Senan Kilbride.

But our belief is that Ballymun's recently impenetrable defensive blanket will suffocate them sufficiently ... and if Dean Rock and Ted Furman can make enough of the chances that will inevitably come at the far end, then destiny awaits the mighty 'Mun.

ODDS: Ballymun Kickhams 10/11, Draw 7/1, St Brigid's 6/5

VERDICT: Ballymun Kickhams


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