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Saturday 18 November 2017

Looks like final will be a happy Munday

St Vincent's v Ballymun Kickhams (Parnell Park , Tonight, 7.0, Live EirSport)

St Vincent’s Enda Varley and Ballymun Kickhams’ Eoin Dolan compete for possession during last year’s Dublin SFC semi-final at Parnell Park Pic: Sportsfile
St Vincent’s Enda Varley and Ballymun Kickhams’ Eoin Dolan compete for possession during last year’s Dublin SFC semi-final at Parnell Park Pic: Sportsfile

It was April, 2015, when Diarmuid Connolly arrived to Parnell Park as an unexpected interviewee at a media launch organised by the Dublin County Board to promote that year's senior football and hurling championships.

"I've been very lucky," he said, when it was put to Connolly that St Vincent's tendency around that time to extend their season into deep winter and occasionally, the following spring, would eventually have a fatiguing effect on his body.

"I've actually never broken a bone in my body in my life and never pulled a muscle…only had a couple of soft-tissue issues."

Damage

Ironic then that in the year of Connolly's career when his frame has been most competitively under-utilised, he sustains his first 'real' injury.

The extent of the damage to Connolly's hamstring sustained in last Sunday's hurling semi-final between St Vincent's and Cuala isn't clear but it was significant enough to force his withdrawal from that game and cast his availability for tonight's Dublin all-ticket SFC final into serious doubt.

The word is that Vincent's will start their best player in Parnell Park this evening and given his remarkable athleticism, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise if he not only survived in what will be a fairly heated environment, but thrived.

Of greater certainty is that his club will need him.

Not that Ballymun Kickhams aren't without their worries here either.

You couldn't argue that either John or Paddy Small are as important to their well-being as Connolly is to Vincent's' but their combined absences would arguably be greater.

"It would certainly be a fairly significant loss to us if both or either are ruled out," as Paddy Carr admitted.

Paddy Small has been a revelation this autumn and by consequence, a fairly decent bet for Jim Gavin's first squad of the 2018 League after scoring 1-11 from play in the 'Mun's last two impressive victories (1-6 v St Brigid's, 0-5 v Kilmacud Crokes).

Small is a prolific inside forward in the classic sense.

He wins ball in front of his man, turns sharply and has been ferociously accurate so far.

Having missed all but the last couple of minutes of the Dublin U21s All-Ireland winning campaign with a hamstring injury, it would be a cruel twist of bad luck to sit out tonight's final, particularly after playing such a prominent role in bringing his team there in the first place.

Ditto his older brother.

In a season where Dublin's All-Ireland winners look fresher and thus more influential to their respective clubs than in recent years, Small - along with Dean Rock and James McCarthy have been key men in their teams' quest to win a first county title since 2012.

That in itself seems a remarkable stat considering the strength of Ballymun since

Paul Curran brought them all the way to Croke Park on St Patrick' Day 2013.

They've had near misses, of course, but lacked the sort of consistency Vincent's have displayed these past five years, the kind Ballymun manager Paddy Carr conceded "every team is striving for".

Last year's semi-final surely stuck in their collective craw.

They lost Jason Whelan to a red card in the first half.

Davey Byrne, one of Dublin club football's most ferocious competitors and a load bearing components of the 'Mun's middle third, went on a black card.

And Vins, as they tend to do, found a way to win.

"We certainly went about looking at ourselves very, very honestly," Carr explained of the aftermath of that defeat, made worse by virtue of the fact that Castleknock - newbies at that lofty juncture - lay in wait in the final.

"Every team has lessons to learn and I always believe that failure is the fuel of future success."

The team hasn't evolved too much but there are subtle changes.

Evan Comerford, who spent the summer as Stephen Cluxton's understudy, came on at half-time in their quarter-final win over St Brigid's for Seán Currie.

Comerford is seen as the heir apparent to Dublin's living goalkeeping legend and tonight is a big moment in his development.

Particularly with the man he replaced, Michael Savage, manning the opposing goals.

Vins, meanwhile, haven't had the benefit of a new wave of youth yet still their excellence is almost monotonous.

Any doubts about Tomís Quinn's desire or advancing years were quashed early.

Both Enda Varley and Shane Carthy have stepped up in a forward line that needs outlets to spare Quinn and Connolly all the heavy lifting.

And they withstood all the physicality St Jude's could hit them with in the semi-final and thought their way to three second half goals in a calculated dismantling of a high quality club side.

Helped, of course, by Jude's indiscipline that resulted in them finishing the game with 13 men.

Ballymun's claims seem to be more convincing. It could be that the Connolly/Small brothers issues and which, if any, play decides this match but Ballymun have the look of a team in the fullest of their health.

"The truth is," Carr said in the run up to this final, "we really don't know how good we can be."

Tonight then, would seem the appropriate time for Ballymun to reveal their true selves.

ST VINCENT'S: M Savage; M Concarr, J Curley, C Wilson; Cameron Diamond, G Brennan, B Egan; L Galvin, N Mullins; G Burke, D Connolly, Cormac Diamond; E Varley, S Carthy, T Quinn.
BALLYMUN KICKHAMS: E Comerford; P McMahon, E Dolan, A Hubbard; C Keeley, J Small, J Burke; A Elliott, J McCarthy; J Whelan, D Rock, K Leahy; E O'Neill, P Small, D Byrne.
ODDS: St Vincent's 6/4, Draw 15/2, Ballymun 4/6
VERDICT: Ballymun Kickhams

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