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Tuesday 26 March 2019

Mammoth task awaits Kilmacud Crokes on Leinster odyssey

Injuries to clear up for clash with top Cats

Barry Mulligan, Kilmacud Crokes, in action against Shane Dollard, and Darren King, left, Rathdowney Errill. AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship, Quarter-Final, Kilmacud Crokes v Rathdowney Errill, Parnell Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
Barry Mulligan, Kilmacud Crokes, in action against Shane Dollard, and Darren King, left, Rathdowney Errill. AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship, Quarter-Final, Kilmacud Crokes v Rathdowney Errill, Parnell Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

THOUGH their identity is as yet unknown, Ollie Baker wasn't being disingenuous when he described Kilmacud Crokes next challenge as "a mammoth task" and a "different prospect".

Specificity is largely irrelevant when you must beat the Kilkenny champions to further an already successful season into deepest winter.

Certainly, there was an atmosphere around the Crokes dressing-room in Parnell Park on Sunday of a team who had survived an ambush and now had three weeks in which to orchestrate what would, regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming Kilkenny SHC final between Ballyhale Shamrocks and Clara, rank as one of the great est achievements of any Dublin side in the Leinster club hurling championship ever.

"Yeah, we have to look at who ever comes out of Kilkenny but we won a county final last Friday evening," stressed Baker.

"That's our fourth match in the last five or six weeks.

"That's a heavy toll on lads. A certain ... I won't call it a staleness ... but a certain familiarity comes into every game.

"You expect every game is going to be the same as the last one.

"Now, look, we have a three week break so we can go back and forget about the last six weeks and repair a few injuries and get a bit of freshness back again."

Visibly, there were traces of an arduous few weeks for the Dublin county champions last Sunday.

By the end of extra-time, when they clutched tightly to a one-point (0-23 to 0-22) winning lead over Laois' Rathdowney Errill, Crokes' wing-backs; Cian MacGabhann and Bill O'Carroll had been substituted with both men displaying physical discomfort in their depatures.

nailed

In addition, captain Seánie McGrath - Crokes match winner with a 15-point haul - limped off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury in extra-time, meaning it was Caolan Conway who nailed the final free of the match in a one-point win.

"Bill was carrying a bit of a knock coming into the game," Baker explained.

"Cian got a knee injury during the game. As you could see out there, anybody that was injured was being exposed. So you just couldn't afford to have anyone going unless they were 100 per cent fit.

"Look, that's why we have big panels. That's why we used them. And that's why the subs train all year as well. They don't get the starting jersey. But when they come on, they have to take their opportunity.

"And again, I think the subs that came in, they had an influence on the game and had a positive influence, certainly from our perspective."

Of McGrath, for whom Baker was understandably effusive in his praise afterwards, the Clareman explained: "I don't think he's badly injured. I think three weeks time …. he'll recover.

"There was an awful lot of tired bodies out there at the end of the game and he was one of them. You can't leave players on the field if they're not 100 per cent fit."

It's all of seven years since a Dublin team contested a Leinster club final, when Ballyboden St Enda's went down by just a point to serial-winners Birr in Tullamore in 2007.

And it's 34 years since a side from the capital - Crumlin - last won a provincial title.

In the meantime, clubs from Kilkenny (15), Offaly (11), Wexford (six), Laois and Carlow (one apiece) have all triumphed in Leinster.

Kilmacud Crokes though, must now wait two weeks to learn the identity of their semi-final opponents, with the Kilkenny SHC final scheduled for next Sunday week, November 16.

Which, in turn, means that either Ballyhale or Clara will have just a week to celebrate their county title and repair for their duel against Baker's Crokes.

The Stillorgan club will also have the benefit of home advantage back in Parnell Park on November 23.

Against that, both potential opponents were in awesome form in their respective semi-final victories in Nowlan Park.

Already, Ballyhale are third favourites (behind Portumna and Thurles Sarsfields) for All-Ireland glory, though they would inevitably move up that particular bill were they to beat Clara in the county decider.

They possess a gold-flecked line-up with Henry Shefflin, Michael Fennelly, Colin Fennelly, TJ Reid, 'Cha' Fitzpatrick et al and a large batch of the rest of the players who made up the All-Ireland club winning teams of 2007 and '10.

dispatched

Clara, though not nearly so densely populated with county stars, are still defending Kilkenny champions and the ease with which they dispatched the Carrickshock team of Richie and John Power fame (1-19 to 0-8) on Sunday suggests they are suitably qualified to win a second in succession.

"We have a mammoth task ahead of us in three weeks so we'll just have to be ready for it," Baker insisted.

"But the same as that, there's a real excitement about the fact that we are there and we are in a Leinster semi-final and these are brilliant days for Kilmacud and brilliant days for the players."

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