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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 9°C
©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
# Club Finals
Preview: Ballymun Kickhams v Portlaoise, Leinster club SFC final
Within Leinster, no team has been able to lay a hand on either of these sides.

Leinster club SFC final

Sunday: Ballymun Kickhams (Dublin) v Portlaoise (Laois), Cusack Park, Mullingar, 1.45pm

Clues from the form guide… It might be overstating it in terms of irresistible forces and immovable objects, but within Leinster there’s been no one that’s been able to lay a hand on either of these sides.

Ballymun conceded just two goals in the Dublin championship and haven’t yet been breached in Leinster. That’s two goals in eight games for the record. But look at the opposition. Since the Laois championship began, Portlaoise have hit 19-106 in their eight games to this point, and that’s over 20 points per outing. Something will have to give here.

Both have had similar routes in Leinster with easy quarter-final wins over Mullingar Shamrock and St Patrick’s respectively, while the last day out, both were pushed a little before deservedly pulling away late against Sarsfields and Emmet Og.

As for the bigger picture, Portlaoise do have history at this stage and experience on their side. While Ballymun are on the provincial scene for the first time since 1985, Portlaoise were champions just three seasons ago and have seven provincial titles in all.

Checking the odds… The bookies are doing nothing more than tossing a coin on this one, as are most people. Ballymun are evens, Portlaoise are 11/10, the draw is 13/2 and the handicap is the bare minimum. Elsewhere, Ted Furman has goaled in his last two outings and is 7/2 to goal again here.

A topic for pub chat… Given the size allied to the domestic success of Portlaoise within their own county, it’s said by many that they are actually bad for the game in Laois, are hurting Justin McNulty in terms of selection and should be split into two. The argument for that is that the town has a quarter of the population of the entire county, yet only has one club.

They’ve won the last six county titles by an average of close to seven points, and while always competitive in Leinster, some suggest their numbers mean a lot of talented footballers never get to experience top grade action and develop because there are too many big names ahead of them in the local pecking order.

The game breakers are… Can Portlaoise deal with Ballymun’s intense style of play that attempts to mimic what Donegal did throughout the summer. Paul Curran’s side put pressure on the ball at the back, and when they turnover possession, they break hard and fast, moving ball and men at pace up the pitch in waves. Dean Rock’s frees have been the obvious danger but they get those frees because of their style and as well as him, Portlaoise will have to watch Philly McMahon, Alan Hubbard and Jason Whelan in particular.

On the other side of the ball, Ballymun will have to cut out the goal threat as we aren’t sure they can score enough against a very good team if they are to concede majors. For that to happen, Portlaoise will have to get on top at midfield, play a patient game up front and look for the overlap with runners coming from deep.

One final note to take on board is Ballymun’s inability to kill teams off when on top. That’s fine against limited opposition but it cost them in last year’s Dublin semi-final and almost cost them in this year’s final. If they are in the ascendancy for spells here, they’d better put scores on the board or this will get away from them.

Gazing into the crystal ball… Expect all wing-forwards to cover huge ground and carry a lot of ball, expect both sides to stick with four forwards and expect it to be close throughout.

Portlaoise have failed the last four times against the Dublin champions but this may be the greenest bunch from the capital they’ve run into. They’ve county players all over, no weak links, a cracking defence and if they are accurate they should prevail. They may not have been tested but they’ve more experience and on days like these, the likes of Cahir Healy, Kieran Lillis, Craig Rogers and Paul Cahillane should have seen enough to do enough.

Verdict: Portlaoise by two

Preview: Kilcormac/Killoughey v Oulart the Ballagh, Leinster club SHC final >