St Jude's are no lost cause
But Vin's still best 'by a country mile': Curran
NINETEEN months ago, to the very day, Paul Curran was standing on the line in Croke Park, watching his Ballymun brigade accelerate from the All-Ireland club final blocks into an eight-point lead.
All changed, changed utterly ... the then-Dublin and Leinster champions would be reeled in and eventually pipped at the injury-time post by St Brigid's of Roscommon.
Last season, after an oscillating two-match saga, they lost their county crown to St Vincent's. Then, a fortnight ago, they were ambushed by St Oliver Plunkett's/Eoghan Ruadh, who bucked the quarter-final odds by a full eight points.
It all means that Curran and his Kickhams crew will be kicking their heels in frustration tomorrow as Plunkett's square off against St Jude's in the first of an intriguing Dublin SFC semi-final double-bill at Parnell Park.
The Sky Blue legend has just seen the Navan Road trailblazers, close up; but he's even more familiar with their Templeogue rivals.
"It's a fascinating contest," he agrees. "I think Jude's will be very, very happy going into it as underdogs, and we'll just see what we get from Plunkett's on this occasion. I kind of half-fancy Jude's to do a number on this one."
This, even though the team of Alan and Bernard Brogan et al have just "done a number" on Ballymun. Curran admits that he didn't expect them to set up so defensively in their recent quarter-final, "because I watched them against Kilmacud in the first round and it was more an open game."
His own summation is that Plunkett's decided they couldn't afford to go man-for-man, and the tactic worked a treat as they shocked the favourites by 2-12 to 0-10.
Curran still reckons they have weaknesses at the back, but adds: "Their half-forward line now, with the exception of Alan, play very, very defensively and they hit you on the break. Against us they got two very important scores in the first half, two goals, and they were then able to implement the game plan. And we just couldn't find a way around them.
"Now, we did have an off-day ourselves. But they have quality up front, some excellent forwards."
Why, then, does he have a slight fancy for Jude's? It's partly based on "knowing more" about them.
"We've had trouble with them in the past. They're a very consistent team, very good forwards as well ... and they work hard as a unit. They're nearly all together all year; there's only one of them really missing and that's Kevin. So, one to slip back in doesn't make a whole pile of difference."
That one - Kevin McManamon - is no ordinary player, mind you. The Dublin dynamo tallied 3-5, all bar one point from play, in their quarter-final dismantling of St Brigid's. One presumes there will be extra pressure - not to mention extra markers - on the All Star nominee tomorrow.
"You know, there's pressure on Kevin all the time to go and do it for his club," Curran demurs. "That's just the nature of the beast when you're coming back in as a county player. He's had a terrific year with the county, starting a lot of the matches, and he was on fire in the early part of it ... he's obviously carried that through to the club as well.
"But I think the great thing about Kevin McManamon is that he's a very unselfish player. Like, Kevin won't mind at all if he doesn't score on Saturday; if he can take two lads out where there's no damage and create a bit of space inside for his brother (Brendan) and Paul Maguire and one or two others, then he'll be quite happy."
Curran views the second semi-final - between the All-Ireland kingpins and a Ballyboden St Enda's crew missing the injured Michael Darragh Macauley - as a more clearcut affair.
"St Vincent's, by a country mile, are the best team left in it," he professes. "We played two games, as curtain-raisers to them, so I got to see them after. And they're still playing with the same quality, the same hunger.
"I watched Diarmuid Connolly against Templeogue and, I mean, his tackling ... for a forward to put in the amount of dispossessions and turnovers that he does shows that they want to win this again. You'd have to favour Vincent's. I think Macauley is a huge loss for Ballyboden."
And beyond that?
"It might sound strange, but I think Plunkett's are probably the team that could beat them in a final. Vincent's haven't really been tested, and we found that last year - the first real test was the semi against Jude's. Vincent's have coasted into a semi-final. They'll get a test on Saturday, but if they come through I think they'll win it again."