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Na Fianna talent reaches maturity

Boland believes Mobhi Road rise has been a gradual process

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Na Fianna attacker Seán Currie of Na Fianna is tackled by Joe Kenny of Faughs during their Dublin SFC quarter-final. Photo: Sportsfile

Na Fianna attacker Seán Currie of Na Fianna is tackled by Joe Kenny of Faughs during their Dublin SFC quarter-final. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Na Fianna attacker Seán Currie of Na Fianna is tackled by Joe Kenny of Faughs during their Dublin SFC quarter-final. Photo: Sportsfile

If there was an inevitability about the rise of Na Fianna as a force in senior Dublin hurling, there is also an acceptance that immediate or even short-term success comes without guarantee.

Tomorrow, they meet Ballyboden St. Enda's in an empty Parnell Park for a place in what would be the first Dublin SHC final in Na Fianna's history.

Given the frequency with which they have collected underage titles of late, it's a day the hurling half of the club have been anticipating.

In the past six years, the Mobhi Road club have won a four-in-a-row of Dublin minor titles between 2014 and '17 and a three-in-a-row of Under-21 successes between 2016 and '18.

These aren't the winning frequencies of a single batch of good young hurlers, more the fulfilment of a long-term vision within the club.

Given all that then, the next step at senior level would seem almost predictable, unavoidable even.

Yet here, they pitch up at the summit at a time when club hurling in Dublin has never been so strong, when a team from the capital can viably challenge for Leinster and All-Ireland titles, when there are no longer 'soft' Dublin hurling championships to be won.

"There's a gang of lads there that are between 23 and 26 now that have won a lot of underage, a lot of minors and Under 21s," says former Dublin and Na Fianna man, Joey Boland. "And there was a lot of Dublin representation on the back of that.

"That group have come to maturity now. They had a couple of years at senior, when they were just coming out of Under 21, when they obviously had to cut their teeth.

"And they quickly realised that there was a big difference between winning at Under 21 and even competing at senior, against the likes of Ballyboden."

Their initial exposure to seniordom was harsh, unrewarding but also, as Boland points out, hugely educational.

"They've been working hard over the last couple of years," he says.

"They were probably too young three or four years ago. They've made their mistakes and they've grown up a little bit. And just as a group, they've realised that in order to win at senior, they had to improve on the physicality side of things and their work rate.

"That's a massive part of it. You'll win underage titles from simply being the best hurlers. But at senior, you have to work to be able to hurl."

Boland last hurled for Na Fianna himself two years ago after making a surprise comeback to the inter-county scene in Pat Gilroy's sole year as Dublin manager.

A bone fragment floating in his ankle required surgery though and after advice that he wouldn't be able to play at levels of before, Boland decided to call it a day.

At that time, green shoots were beginning to appear for Na Fianna, although as he points out, many of the budding prospects were "a bit too young at that stage."

"There were a couple of us up around the 30 mark and then there was a massive gap to the 21-year-olds. Those lads were very talented but the other teams in Dublin at the time were just more mature, they had a better mix."

Chief among Na Fianna's hopes is Donal Burke, already a Dublin senior but still a player whose talent has barely scratched the landscape at inter-county level.

Last summer, Burke opted to go to America and didn't play any championship for Dublin.

But given the nature of his talents as a 'pure' marksman, he is someone on whom similar expectation is riding with Dublin.

"He's got everything," Boland observes.

"He's got the skill, he's got the physicality, he's got the bit of class as well. And he has the mentality.

"Even if the opposition are playing a sweeper, it won't affect him. If there's a lad behind him and a lad in the space in front of him, he's cute enough and good enough to tap it down to himself and lay it off to a man running through."

"That lad hasn't left a hurley down since I've known him. That's where it comes from. Pure practice."

Burke, along with the Currie brothers, Seán and Colin, have been to the forefront of Na Fianna's attacking potency this year.

Again, if there was an inevitability about their rise as outstanding senior club hurlers, it has also been a gradual process.

"It's difficult for lads of that talent, who stand out so much at underage and have that much success when they initially come up to senior," Boland notes.

"They play a Ballyboden, you just don't know what you're getting yourself in for. It's like getting hit by a steam train.

"But they've grown to realise: 'if we don't outwork the opposition, we can't hurl. They'd have looked at what Cuala did four or five years ago and tried to replicate that. Because," Boland adds, "Cuala always had good hurlers but they had to develop a harder edge before they started to win senior titles."

ODDS: Ballyboden St Enda's Evens Draw 12/1 Na Fianna 7/2

VERDICT: Ballyboden St Enda's

  • Dublin SHC 'A' SF: Ballyboden SE v Na Fianna, Live DubsTV (Tomorrow, 4.30)