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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018

'That's the game that knocked the stuffing out of the team'

It’s been four years, but Ballymun Kickhams are back in the county final and ready to slay the beast.

A dejected Dean Rock Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

IT WAS TEN minutes into the All-Ireland club final in Croke Park. Ballymun Kickhams had been on a dream run ever since lifting the Dublin county title – their first since 1985 – the previous October.

Mullingar Shamrocks, Sarsfields, Portlaoise and Dr Crokes were accounted for, opening up the route to St Patrick’s Day. The biggest day in the club calendar. An All-Ireland title on offer. And it was St Brigid’s, Ballymun’s final opponents, who appeared blinded by the bright lights of the big occasion.

Dean Rock and Philly McMahon dispatched early goals as Ballymun raced into a 2-3 to 0-1 lead before the clock hit double figures. It began to dawn on the 28,428 crowd that this team might be something special.

Ted Furman celebrates Ballymun Kickhams' Ted Furman celebrates their second goal early on in the 2013 All-Ireland final Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Then the dream turned to a nightmare. St Brigid’s responded. They clawed their way back to within four at half-time and visibly grew in confidence. Brigid’s were back on level terms in second-half stoppage-time when Frankie Dolan stroked over a dramatic winning point for the Roscommon champions.

As far as heartbreak goes in a sporting sense, throwing away an eight-point lead in an All-Ireland final must be right up there.

“It’s something I’ll take to the grave,” midfielder James McCarthy wrote in his blog for AIB last March.

“Our dressing-room was a dark place, just bleak. It was like a death in the family, a morgue of a place. More than crushing, and a tough few days followed.”

Six months later, they found themselves back in the county final. St Vincent’s, who they beat in the 2012 quarter-final, stood between Ballymun and a second successive county title.

Once again they built up a hefty lead. This time they had a five-point cushion with two minutes to play, but the Vinnies hit 1-2 at the death to force extra-time. The sides finished level – 0-20 to 1-17 – after the extras to send the game to a replay.

In a frenzied replay that saw Diarmuid Connolly and McMahon sent off for either side, Vincent’s hit the last four points of the game to sneak a 1-9 to 1-8 victory. By the following March, they were All-Ireland champions. Fine margins and all that.

Diarmuid Connolly is sent off by referee Darragh Sheppard Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Twice in the space of six months, Ballymun had a major trophy within their grasp and they let it slip.

McCarthy recently said the toll of both those defeats weighed heavily on his team for a long time. Paul Curran, who managed the team between 2011 and 2014, agrees.

“We were beaten in the All-Ireland final in March, and we still managed to get to the Dublin county final in October of that year,” Curran tells The42. “We were five points up with two minutes to go, should have held out and won back-to-back titles.

“I think that’s the game that knocked the stuffing out of the team. The replay against Vincent’s…we just didn’t get back after that. We were beaten by Plunkett’s in the quarter-final the following year and then as they say it’s taken them a couple of years to get back. They had a little dip then, a little bit of transition.”

Just like that, Ballymun spent three years in the wilderness, failing to make it back to another county final. Their story is intrinsically linked with that of Vincent’s, who would win three county and provincial titles in the four years after that 2013 replay.

They’ve been the one itch Kickhams couldn’t scratch in the last four years. The Marino outfit dumped out Ballymun in the second round in 2015, and in last year’s semi-final. They stand in their way once again today.

“There’s small margins,” continues Curran. “Ballymun could have won the same amount as Vincent’s but just didn’t. That’s just the way it is.

“Look, Vincent’s are a quality team as we know. They’ve won the All-Ireland, they’ve won three of the last four Leinster and Dublin titles. They’re a quality outfit, they know how to win the big games.

Ger Brennan lifts the cup Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“Vincent’s have been extraordinary really in the last four or five years. In 2012 when we won it, we were very lucky to get over them in a quarter-final. We beat them by a point and we had to hold out that evening in Parnell Park. So they’ve been around a long, long time and they’ve done very well.

“If you look at the last three games between the teams, there was nothing in it. If you look at 2013, Ballymun probably should have won it, five points up with a couple of minutes to go but just couldn’t close it out.

“Last year they were beaten by a point but ended up getting a couple of lads sent off. Davy Byrne was black carded and Jay Whelan was red carded after 20 minutes so there’s never a whole pile between the two of them, league or championship and I don’t think today will be any different.”

“We’re great foes with Vincent’s,” smiles McMahon. “We’re looking forward to it. They’re a really good team. They’ve bet obviously a strong, physical Jude’s team that were hard to break down.

“They’ve got some really good talent throughout the team, not only the likes of Diarmuid and Shane Carthy and Mossy (Tomas Quinn), they’ve got real strength and depth throughout their whole squad. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but it’s one that we’re looking forward to, definitely.”

Tomas Quinn with Philly McMahon Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Ballymun’s underachievement is even more puzzling when you consider the wealth of talent in their ranks. Dean Rock, McCarthy, McMahon, John Small are all multiple All-Ireland winners with Dublin, while Alan Hubbard, Jason Whelan, Kevin Leahy and Davy Byrne have all played for the county too.

But having so many county stars can sometimes work against you in the Dublin championship.

“I always maintain it works against you in the early stages after Dublin are knocked out when you just don’t know what you’re going to get,” explains Curran. “But once you settle and arrive in the final with a couple of matches under your belt, I think it has to work for you.

“These guys now are, I don’t want to use the word reprogrammed but you know what I mean, they’re back with their clubs, they’ve forgotten about Dublin and they’re fully focused on the club. Once you get to a final you’ve the boys back fully and you’ve had a good few weeks to work with them and that’ll particularly.”

This year the emergence Evan Comerford and Paddy Small, younger brother of John, have heavily bolstered the Ballymun ranks. Comerford is the heir to Stephen Cluxton’s throne with the Sky Blues, while Small - a major injury doubt heading into today’s clash – surely caught the eye of Jim Gavin with some electric displays up front in the past six weeks.

Paddy Small Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Curran continues: “They have a young group coming through with a couple of very, very good players on it.  Paddy Small being one of them. He’s made a huge difference to them this year. He’s turned into a real player.”

Small was only 15 when Ballymun lost that All-Ireland final, and Curran would surely have loved a player of his ability in his team against the Kiltoom outfit.

“He’s a guy that’s really blossomed in the last few seasons. He always had the talent but I think looking at his brother John last year, has kind of kicked his fitness into gear and he’s a different animal now.

“Very fit, quick and strong, well able to win his own ball and he’s very accurate with both feet. I would see Paddy being brought in probably in January for some of the O’Byrne Cup games and who knows after that.”

There’s no telling what a defeat tonight will do to this Ballymun team. They might make it back again within 12 months, or they could spent another couple of years outside the winners enclosure.

For a club that has come so close to achieving the ultimate honour before seeing it snatched away, motivation won’t be an issue. The St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh  boss also believes their style of play is well-suited to taking on the Marino men.

Paul Curran Former Ballymun boss Paul Curran Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Hunger is going to pay a key role,” says Curran. “The other thing that Ballymun do, that a lot of other teams don’t do, they just keep coming at you. They play this attacking game and go man for man, no messing about, and they keep attacking, keep attacking.

“That sort of mentality might trouble Vincent’s. A lot of teams set-up against Vincent’s the wrong way, they set-up defensively and invite Vincent’s onto them. Vincent’s have quality forwards, they’ll eventually find their way through and they’re patient enough. Whereas Ballymun just keep attacking and I think that’s going to bear fruit.”

What sort of game can we expect?

“A Vincent’s-Ballymun game is no different to looking at a Dublin-Mayo game,” explains McMahon.

“It’s always going to be physical, it’s always going to be challenging. Hopefully, it’ll go right until the end. It’s what the spectators want. We’ll see what happens.”


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Kevin O'Brien

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